X-ray probe to study black hole fingerprints

Black hole
An artist’s conception shows the accretion disk around an active black hole. (NASA Illustration)

NASA is committing $188 million to build and launch a space telescope to observe patterns in the X-ray radiation emanating from black holes, neutron stars and pulsars.

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE, was chosen from a field of three finalists in NASA’s Astrophysics Explorers Program, the space agency said today.

IXPE’s triple-telescope detector system is designed to check the polarization of cosmic X-rays. Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director for NASA Headquarters’ Science Mission Directorate, said the mission should “open a new window on the universe for astronomers to peer through.”

“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,” Hertz said in a news release.

IXPE is due for launch in 2020.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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