NASA's latest X-ray telescope sends stunning first image of supernova remnant

NASA’s latest X-ray telescope sends stunning first image of supernova remnant

The NASA Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) has sent its first image back to Earth, showing the remains of a star that exploded in the 17th century.

The space observatory was launched on December 9, 2021 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into low Earth orbit.

He spent the last month calibrating instruments and preparing to observe a supernova remnant (SNR) in the constellation of Cassiopeia called Cassiopeia A.

It is the remnant of a giant star 11,000 light-years away, first seen in the 17th century, when shock waves sweep up the surrounding gas and heat it up, generating fast cosmic ray particles that produce a bright X-ray glow.

IXPE is joining the Chandra X-ray telescope, one of NASA’s largest space observatories launched in 1999, to study various aspects of the X-ray spectrum.

These are the remains of a giant star that exploded in the 17th century when shock waves swept up the surrounding gas and heated it to high temperatures, which generated fast cosmic ray particles that produce a bright glow in X-rays.

These are the remains of a giant star that exploded in the 17th century when shock waves swept up the surrounding gas and heated it to high temperatures, which generated fast cosmic ray particles that produce a bright glow in X-rays.

He spent the last month calibrating instruments and preparing to observe a supernova remnant (SNR) in the constellation of Cassiopeia called Cassiopeia A.

He spent the last month calibrating instruments and preparing to observe a supernova remnant (SNR) in the constellation of Cassiopeia called Cassiopeia A.

IXPE, a joint effort between NASA and the Italian Space Agency, is the first space-based observatory dedicated to studying the polarization of X-rays from objects such as exploding stars and black holes, which is how light orients itself as it travels.

A new image released by NASA for Valentine’s Day shows the IXPE data as a magenta ball overlaid with data from Chandra, shown in blue.

The purple color saturation corresponds to the X-ray intensity observed with IXPE, and the blue color corresponds to high-energy X-ray data.

This is a heat map of the supernova remnant generated using IXPE data.

This is a heat map of the supernova remnant generated using IXPE data.

Chandra and IXPE with different types of detectors capture different levels of angular resolution or sharpness, providing astronomers and astrophysicists with a higher level of detail to better investigate these unusual phenomena.

After the launch of Chandra in 1999, its first image was also of Cassiopeia A, one of the brightest X-ray objects in the constellation Cassiopeia.

The image taken by Chandra showed that at the center of the supernova remnant is a compact object – probably a black hole or a neutron star.

These objects, along with clouds of bright gas and dust, are the remains of a massive star that has reached the end of its useful life.

This image shows Cas A as seen by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.  Chandra and IXPE with different types of detectors capture different levels of angular resolution or sharpness, providing astronomers and astrophysicists with a higher level of detail to better investigate these unusual phenomena.

This image shows Cas A as seen by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra and IXPE with different types of detectors capture different levels of angular resolution or sharpness, providing astronomers and astrophysicists with a higher level of detail to better investigate these unusual phenomena.

The space observatory was launched on December 9, 2021 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into low Earth orbit.

The space observatory was launched on December 9, 2021 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into low Earth orbit.

IXPE: NASA’S NEW SPACE X-RAY OBSERVATION

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) is a collaboration between NASA and the Italian Space Agency.

It is a space observatory with three identical telescopes designed to measure the polarization of cosmic X-rays from black holes, neutron stars, supernova remnants and pulsars.

It lifted off on December 9 and reached its desired orbit by December 15 using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

It is part of NASA’s Explorers program, which develops low-cost spacecraft to study heliophysics and astrophysics.

It will study exotic objects, which will allow mapping the magnetic fields of black holes and other phenomena.

Its first target was Cassiopeia A, a supernova remnant 11,000 light-years away, which was also the first target for another great X-ray observatory, NASA’s Chandra Space Telescope.

High-energy X-rays from surrounding objects, such as black holes and pulsars, can be polarized, that is, vibrate in a certain direction.

The study of X-ray polarization can be used to uncover the physics of objects and gain information about the environment that created them.

The mission plans to observe more than 30 targets during the first year, including the curved space-time around stellar-mass black holes, and measure their rotation.

Other planned targets include various types of neutron stars such as pulsars and magnetars.

Also known as Cas A, the massive star that shed its outer layers to form an X-ray cloud exploded into pieces over 14,000 years ago, but light only reached Earth about 350 years ago, as the distance is 11,090 light-years. away.

Supernovae are filled with magnetic energy and accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light, making them laboratories for studying extreme physics in space.

“IXPE’s image of Cassiopeia A is as historic as the Chandra image of the same supernova remnant,” said Martin S. Weiskopf, IXPE Principal Investigator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“This demonstrates the potential of IXPE to provide new, previously unseen information about Cassiopeia A, which is currently being analyzed.”

The key measurement scientists will take with IXPE is called polarization. This is a way to see how X-ray light orients itself as it travels through space.

The polarization of light holds clues to the medium in which the light originated. The IXPE instruments also measure the energy, time of arrival, and position in the sky of X-rays from cosmic sources.

“IXPE’s image of Cassiopeia A is bellissima,” said Paolo Soffitta, IXPE’s Italian principal investigator at the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Rome.

“We look forward to analyzing the polarimetry data to learn even more about this supernova remnant,” the researcher added.

“Measuring the polarization of X-rays is not easy,” Weiskopf said. “You have to gather a lot of light, and unpolarized light acts like background noise. It may take some time to detect a polarized signal.”

The data IXPE is gathering about Cassiopeia A will allow scientists to see how the polarization of the supernova remnant is changing.

It is about 10 light-years across, more than twice the distance between Earth and our closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri.

The researchers are currently working with the data to create the world’s first x-ray polarization map of an object.

This will reveal new clues about how X-rays are produced on Cassiopeia A.

“Future polarization images of IXPE should reveal the mechanisms behind this famous space accelerator,” said Roger Romani, IXPE co-investigator at Stanford University.

“To fill in some of those details, we developed a way to make IXPE measurements even more accurate using machine learning techniques. We look forward to what we discover by analyzing all the data.”

WHAT IS CHANDRA X-RAY OBSERVATORY?

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is a telescope specially designed to detect X-rays from very hot regions of the universe, such as exploding stars, galaxy clusters, and matter around black holes.

Since X-rays are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, Chandra should orbit above it at an altitude of up to 86,500 miles (139,000 km) in space.

It was launched on July 23, 1999 and is 100 times less sensitive to X-ray sources than any previous X-ray telescope due to the high angular resolution of its mirrors.

NASA has no specific plans to replace Chandra and further study the X-ray wavelength of light.

The Chandra X-ray telescope is 20 years old and has exceeded its predicted operating life by almost 15 years.

Chandra automatically went into so-called safe mode in October due to a problem with the gyroscope.

NASA's latest X-ray telescope sends stunning first image of supernova remnant

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