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NASA’s new X-Ray observatory will unlock the universe’s most explosive secrets

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Two weeks before NASA launched the long-awaited James Webb Telescope, another groundbreaking project made its maiden voyage to space.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Called the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), the new observatory will study high-energy phenomena located millions and billions of light years away from Earth.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Similar to the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, IXPE will have its eye on stunning objects like pulsars, nebulae, black holes, and supernovas.

But IXPE has a unique trait that sets it apart from Chandra — and any other mission, for that matter.

That’s its ability to zero in on polarized light sources: electric fields that vibrate in one direction instead of multiple.

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Polarized light in space can give researchers more accurate measurements about an object’s size and form, its location, and how it moves.

“IXPE will tell us more about the precise nature of cosmic X-ray sources than we can learn by studying their brightness and color spectrum alone.”

Martin Weisskopf, IXPE’s principal investigator

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NASA

Because the Earth’s atmosphere blocks out X-ray waves, IXPE has to view the cosmos from space, just like Chandra.

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X-rays are invisible to the naked human eye.

But they’re plentiful in space — especially in high-energy zones.

The incredible imagery we’ve seen from the likes of Chandra rely on X-ray data converted into visible wavelengths.

We wouldn’t be able to picture the details of bright nebulae or stunning pulsars without the ability to detect their high-frequency emissions in the first place.

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IXPE will be able to determine new details about how black holes spin, how pulsars generate extreme amounts of energy, and what happens during various collisions and explosions in the universe.

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

With that new understanding, we’ll be able to piece together an even more accurate picture of the universe’s knack for chaos.