NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) lit up the early morning sky one year ago as it started its journey into space. The satellite was launched on December 9, 2021, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
IXPE is the first satellite dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars. Polarization is a property of light that gives scientists important information about cosmic objects. Before IXPE, X-ray polarization was rarely measured in space. In just one year, IXPE has conducted measurements no telescope has ever been able to make before.
Here’s a look at some of IXPE’s accomplishments in its first year of operation:
- IXPE unlocked the surprising secrets of Cassiopeia A, a famous exploded star.
- Findings from IXPE’s observation of neutron star Hercules X-1 shocked scientists.
- IXPE revealed the shape and orientation of hot matter around the black hole in the Cygnus X-1 system.
- Thanks to IXPE, scientists confirmed that magnetars have ultra-strong magnetic fields and are highly polarized.
- NASA’s IXPE helped solve a 40-year mystery around particle acceleration in a blazar, an active black hole that has a jet pointed toward Earth.
For IXPE, things are just getting started. Its baseline mission duration is two years, so with at least one more year of exploration to go, the satellite is poised to make more exciting discoveries about the intricacies of X-ray polarization. Happy first anniversary, IXPE!