A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has blasted off with NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) satellite. First announced in 2017, the IXPE is the first satellite capable of measuring the polarization of X-rays that come from cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars.
The fridge-sized satellite has three telescopes that can track and measure the direction, arrival time, energy, and polarization of light. When data from all those telescopes is combined, NASA can form images that could give us more insight into how mysterious celestial objects — those that emit X-ray — work. For instance, they’re hoping it can give us a more thorough look at the structure of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant with a neutron star rapidly spinning in its center.
By observing black holes, the IXPE will help scientists gain more insight and broaden humanity’s knowledge on the regions of space we still barely know. It could provide clues on why they spin and how they gobble up cosmic materials, though it could also lead to new discoveries. Martin Weisskopf, the mission’s principal investigator, said during a briefing: “IXPE will help us test and refine our current theories of how the universe works. We may even discover more exciting theories about these exotic objects than what we’ve hypothesized.”
SpaceX used a Falcon 9 rocket from a previous mission for this launch. If all goes well, the rocket’s first stage will land on the company’s drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” after ferrying IXPE to space.