Objects such as black holes can heat surrounding gases to more than a million degrees. The high-energy X-ray radiation from this gas can be polarized—vibrating in a particular direction. The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will fly three space telescopes with cameras capable of measuring the polarization of these cosmic X-rays, allowing scientists to answer fundamental questions about these turbulent and extreme environments where gravitational, electric, and magnetic fields are at their limits.
IXPE will improve sensitivity over OSO-8, the only previous X-ray polarimeter, by two orders of magnitude in required exposure time. IXPE also will introduce the capability for X-ray polarimetric imaging, uniquely enabling the measurement of X-ray polarization with scientifically meaningful spatial, spectral, and temporal resolution, to address NASA’s goal “to probe the origin and destiny of our universe, including the nature of black holes, dark energy, dark matter, and gravity.” IXPE measurements will provide new dimensions for probing a wide range of cosmic X-ray sources—including active galactic nuclei (AGN) and microquasars, pulsars and pulsar wind nebulae, magnetars, accreting X-ray binaries, supernova remnants, and the Galactic center.
IXPE’s polarization measurements will help answer fundamental questions that impact and advance high-energy astrophysics, including:
- What are the geometries of the flows, emission regions, and magnetic fields?
- What physical processes lead to particle acceleration and X-ray emission?
- What are the physical effects of gravitational, electric, and magnetic fields at their extreme limits?
LASP will provide:
- Mission operations for IXPE
LASP will not provide any instruments for the IXPE mission.
Launch date: NET November 20, 2020
Launch location: Kwajalein, Marshall Islands
Launch vehicle: Pegasus
Mission target: 540-km circular Earth orbit
Mission duration: Two-year primary mission
Other organizations involved:
- NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)
- Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation
- Italian Space Agency (ASI)
- Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology
- National Institute for Astrophysics