NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE, is a space observatory built to discover the secrets of some of the most extreme objects in the universe – the remnants of supernova explosions, powerful particle streams spit out by feeding black holes, and more.
Marshall Space Flight Center, Italian Space Agency, and Ball Aerospace
IXPE is NASA’s first mission to study the polarization of X-rays from many different types of celestial objects.
IXPE builds on the discoveries of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other space telescopes by measuring the amount and direction of polarization of X-ray light.
IXPE’s polarization measurements will help scientists answer questions such as why black holes spin, how do pulsars shine so brightly in X-rays, and what powers the jets of energetic particles that are ejected from the region around the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.
This illustration shows NASA’s IXPE spacecraft, at right, observing blazar Markarian 501, at left. A blazar is a black hole surrounded by a disk of gas and dust with a bright jet of high-energy particles pointed toward Earth. The inset illustration shows high-energy particles in the jet (blue). When the particles hit the shock wave, depicted as a white bar, the particles become energized and emit X-rays as they accelerate. Moving away from the shock, they emit lower-energy light: first visible, then infrared, and radio waves. Farther from the shock, the magnetic field lines are more chaotic, causing more turbulence in the particle stream.
The satellite was launched on a Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 9, 2021.
IXPE is the first satellite dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars.
Polarization is a property of light that gives scientists important information about cosmic objects. Before IXPE, X-ray polarization was rarely measured in space. In just one year, IXPE has conducted measurements no telescope has ever been able to make before.
This composite image of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant, was assembled by combining data from five telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum: the Very Large Array, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, the XMM-Newton Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
Credits: NASA, ESA, NRAO/AUI/NSF and G. Dubner (University of Buenos Aires)