Space & Innovation

NASA to Launch a Powerful Space Telescope to Hunt Black Holes

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer — or IXPE — will be able to study the extremely turbulent environment immediately surrounding the most massive objects in the universe.


NASA will develop a new telescope that looks at polarized X-ray emissions triggered by black holes, neutron stars and other high-temperature phenomenon.

Slated to launch in 2020, the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE, actually consists of three telescopes with cameras that will be able to detect how light is polarized, or skewed in a particular direction.

NASA says the information will allow scientists to answer fundamental questions about the turbulent environments around stellar and supermassive black holes, neutron stars and pulsars.

"We can only guess what we will find," NASA's chief astrophysicist Paul Hertz said in a statement. "We cannot directly image what's going on near objects like black holes and neutron stars, but studying the polarization of X-rays emitted from their surrounding environments reveals the physics of these enigmatic objects."

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IXPE was selected from among three projects vying for funding under NASA's Astrophysics Explorers Program.

"NASA determined the IXPE proposal provided the best science potential and most feasible development plan," the agency said.

Total mission costs, including the ride into space, will be $188 million.

The lead researcher is Martin Weisskopf with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Ball Aerospace in Broomfield, Colorado, will build the spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency is contributing the polarizing-sensitive X-ray detectors.

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