The known universe is a vast ocean that holds countless wonders. Some of those hold the secrets to the creation of matter and life itself. However, anything of significance is too far away for us to see with conventional telescopes, and so, astronomers turn to X-ray and radio telescopes. These capture portions of the electromagnetic spectrum that are invisible to our eyes.
NASA has now awarded a contract to SpaceX to launch its Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE). This one-of-a-kind spacecraft is designed exclusively to conduct research on and study polarized light from sources like neutron stars, pulsar wind nebulae (nebulae found within the remains of a supernova) and supermassive black holes.
The IXPE will be launched aboard the time-tested Falcon 9 rocket in April of 2021 from the Kennedy Space Centre. The projected cost for the launch is about $50 million. In addition to neutron stars and supermassive black holes, this spacecraft will also shed light on and improve our understanding of magnetars, which are a type of neutron stars with a magnetic field that is hundreds of millions of times more powerful than any man-made magnet. Supermassive black holes are black holes found at the centers of galaxies and contain masses that are millions of times that of the sun.
Studying the nature and origins of such objects in the cosmos will go a long way in improving our understanding of how the universe functions.