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Black Holes Are Up Next For NASA's Explorers Program Missions

First Posted: Jan 06, 2017 03:40 AM EST

NASA is continually developing its cutting-edge space exploration probes with its Explorers Program missions. Its latest addition, the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) is set to dig deeper into the unknown activities of black holes and neutron stars -- some of the most complex astronomical objects in the vast universe to observe.

Astronomy.com reported that scientists at NASA are planning to dive into black holes and neutron stars to study their measurements, properties and behaviors. While it has been difficult for space experts to observe the activities of these stellar remnants, these mysterious objects radiate extreme heat that could reach up to millions of degrees that can be detected through X-rays.

"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," said Paul Hertz, NASA's astrophysics division director for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington in NASA's statement.

Polarizations could be used as guides to the direction where the electromagnetic waves are heading. With the use of IXPE's three space telescopes, the team led by Principal Investigator Martin Weisskopf at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center could be able to measure the polarization of X-rays that come from the location where the neutron stars and black holes are situated.

The IXPE will be launched in 2020 with an estimated cost of $188 million. This project is one of NASA's space-borne missions, which include the Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer (Swift) and the Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

"NASA has a great history of launching observatories in the Astrophysics Explorers Program with new and unique observational capabilities," Hertz added. "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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