New NASA Mission Will Search for Monster Black Holes and More

Supermassive black holes IXPE mission
NASA's Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will measure the powerful X-rays emitted by supermassive black holes. The mission will launch three space telescopes in 2020 (Image credit: NASA)

Monster black holes, neutron stars and pulsars are the targets of a new NASA space telescope mission scheduled to launch in 2020. 

Black holes can heat up nearby gases, which, in turn, emit high-energy X-rays. NASA's new Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will use three space telescopes equipped with cameras to measure the polarization (direction of vibration) of these X-rays. The mission will cost about $188 million, NASA officials said.

"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, Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement from NASA. [The Strangest Black Holes in the Universe]

The IXPE mission was selected for launch by NASA's Astrophysics Explorers program and will be led by Martin Weisskopf, principal investigator of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Italian Space Agency is helping to develop the cameras capable of measuring the powerful X-rays radiating from black holes. Ball Aerospace will provide the IXPE spacecraft and mission integration. 

"NASA has a great history of launching observatories in the Astrophysics Explorers program with new and unique observational capabilities," Hertz said in the statement. "IXPE will open a new window on the universe for astronomers to peer through. Today, we can only guess what we will find."

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.