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SpaceX Launches New IXPE X-ray Space Telescope

Early Thursday morning (Dec. 9), SpaceX launched its 28th rocket of the year, carrying an X-ray observatory for NASA into space. At 1 a.m. (0600 GMT), a used Falcon 9 rocket launched from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE). This was the fifth mission for this particular booster. During a live webcast of the launch, NASA TV’s launch commentator Derrol Nail said, “Liftoff of Falcon 9 with IXPE, a new set of X-ray eyes to observe the secrets of our heavens.”

The $214 million IXPE satellite, which is about the size of a refrigerator, will investigate the physics of some of the universe’s most active objects: black holes and neutron stars. Astronomers are hopeful that this satellite will provide them with a new tool to investigate the mysteries of the universe. IXPE will analyse the polarisation of light (how a light wave oscillates relative to the direction of the wave) from some of the universe’s most dramatic cosmic sources with three identical telescopes.

Astronomers will be able to better understand the structure and forces that drive these mysterious cosmic objects. IXPE will join NASA’s other X-ray viewing spacecraft, such as the Chandra Space Telescope, which will orbit at a far greater altitude than IXPE.

IXPE will focus only on light polarimetry, whereas Chandra is an image satellite that takes attractive photographs of X-ray sources. The Crab Nebula, a relic of a dead star, will be its first target. The leftovers of a stellar explosion are a great place to start using IXPE because it’s meant to look at really spectacular targets.

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