NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer, IXPE | Exploring the X-ray Universe


Deep space X-ray study helps us learn about the most extreme objects in the universe, including black holes and remnants of exploded stars. Image X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer will study these phenomena differently. 

Find out more in this episode of #EZScience, featuring NASA's associate administrator for science, Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, and the Smithsonian's Under Secretary for Science and Research, Dr. Ellen Stofan.

Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE)

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) will launch from Launch Complex 39A, NASA's Kennedy Space Center, at 1 a.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021.
Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1 a.m. EST on Thursday.

A joint effort with the Italian Space Agency, the IXPE Observatory is NASA's first mission to measure X-rays' polarization from the universe's most extreme and mysterious objects:
  • Supernova remnants
  • Supermassive black holes
  • Dozens of other high-energy objects

After 33 minutes of flight, the spacecraft separated from the rocket as expected. However, it took about a minute for the spacecraft's solar arrays to unfold. Then, at approximately 372 miles (600 kilometers), IXPE entered its orbit around Earth's equator. Astronomers received the first telemetry data from the spacecraft about 40 minutes after launch.

IXPE carries three state-of-the-art space telescopes with unique polarization-sensitive detectors. Polarization is a property of light that holds clues to the environment from which the light originates. The new mission builds on and complements the scientific discoveries of other telescopes, including the Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA's flagship X-ray telescope. First light operations are scheduled to begin in January.

The IXPE carries three highly advanced space telescopes that all have polarization-sensitive detectors. The property of polarization of light is associated with the environment from which the light originates.

Its goals are to obtain X-ray polarimetry and polarimetric imaging of cosmic sources, with methods that address two specific objectives:
  1. To study the radiation processes and the properties of specific cosmic X-ray sources
  2. Investigate general relativistic effects