A recently launched telescope from NASA harnesses x-ray power to offer new insights into black hole structure and pulsar energy, according to the MIT Technology Review.
Chasing light: Launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 9, NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) is the first x-ray telescope capable of measuring the polarization of light in space. Polarization refers to the orientation of light’s electrical and magnetic energy; most of the light we see in the universe is unpolarized, moving through space without a specific direction. Gauging the polarization of light is valuable because polarized light carries information about magnetic fields through which it passes and picks up the chemical composition of matter with which it interacts along the way. The initiative aims to yield new insights into the nature of light as well as the celestial environments it travels through.
Hybrid vision: IXPE boasts three telescopes, each outfitted with a set of three mirrors and a sensor capable of monitoring four properties of light, including direction, arrival time, energy and polarization. Incoming x-rays provide data that are drawn together into an image, allowing scientists to gain a deeper view into celestial bodies and habitats, particularly the energetic makeup of black holes and neutron stars.
The celestial itinerary: IXPE is set to hurtle past more than 50 of the most energetic objects known thus far in our universe in the span of the next two years, including the supermassive black hole in the heart of the Milky Way. IXPE’s dataset will enable scientists to map the inner edge of black holes by measuring their gyration while giving insight into black holes’ relation to neighboring bodies and environments.