NASA's New Space Mission Will Study Black Holes And Other Extreme Objects

Posted: Jan 4 2017, 12:32am CST | by , Updated: Jan 4 2017, 1:26am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA, s New Space Mission will Study Black Holes and Other Extreme Objects
An artist's impression of black hole. Credit: Ute Kraus
 

The mission is expected to launch in 2020 and could help solve longstanding mysteries of the universe

For the first time, NASA is planning to send a science mission to explore some of the most enigmatic and extreme astronomical objects in the universe, including supermassive black holes and pulsating neutron stars. The mission is expected to launch at the end of the decade and could provide researchers the necessary data to address key questions about the mysterious of the universe.

The mission Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) will carry three space telescopes with powerful instruments mounted on them, capable of measuring polarization or light waves emitted from the exotic, hidden objects. For instance, a black hole is an almost invisible body in space. Its gravitational pull is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. However, black hole’s innermost zones emit X-rays as it swallows nearby material. The bright flashes of X-ray cannot be detected from the Earth’s surface, as they are absorbed by our atmosphere, and hence must be studied from space. 

“We cannot directly image what’s going on near objects like black holes and neutron stars, but studying the polarization of X-rays emitting from their surrounding environments reveals the physics of these enigmatic objects,” said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA.

“NASA has a great history of launching observatories in the Astrophysics Explorers Program 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.”

Black holes come in various sizes. There are at least two known types of black holes – depending on their mass. Stellar black holes that are formed with the collapse of a dying star and supermassive black holes that are millions or billions times massive than sun. The existence of intermediate-mass black holes is still unclear. With X-ray visions and other techniques, researchers can monitor turbulent and extreme environments around black holes and could help solve some longstanding mysteries.

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer mission, scheduled for launch in 2020, will cost $188 million.

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