NASA has planned to launch a $188 million science mission in 2020 which will allow astronomers to explore, the hidden details of some of the most extreme and exotic astronomical objects, like stellar and supermassive black holes, neutron stars and pulsars, for the first time. Objects such as black holes can heat surrounding gases to even more than a million degrees. The high-energy X-ray radiation from this gas can be polarised, vibrating in a particular direction, according to NASA.
The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will fly three space telescopes with cameras which is capable of measuring the polarisation of these cosmic X-rays. This would allow the scientists to answer fundamental questions about these turbulent and extreme environments where gravitational, electric and magnetic fields are at their limits.
Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA said, “We cannot directly image what is going on near objects like black holes and neutron stars, but studying the polarisation of X-rays emitted from their surrounding environments reveals the physics of these enigmatic objects”.
Hertz added, “NASA has a great history of launching observatories in the Astrophysics Explorers Programme with new and unique observational capabilities. IXPE will open a new window on the universe for astronomers to peer through. Today, we can only guess what we will find”.
NASA’s Astrophysics Explorers Programme has requested proposals for new missions in September 2014. Fourteen proposals had been submitted, and three mission concepts were also selected for additional review by a panel of agency and external scientists.
NASA had determined the IXPE proposal that has provided the best science potential and most feasible development plan.
The mission, slated for launch in 2020, costs $188 million. This figure includes the cost of the launch vehicle and post-launch operations and data analysis, according to the information given by NASA.
Principal Investigator Martin Weisskopf of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, is going to lead the mission. Ball Aerospace in Broomfield, Colorado, is decided to provide the spacecraft and mission integration.
The Italian Space Agency will contribute the polarisation sensitive X-ray detectors, which had been developed in Italy.
NASA’s Explorers Programme has provided frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the agency’s astrophysics and heliophysics programmes.
By Prakriti Neogi