See the First Stunning Image From NASA’s New X-Ray Observatory

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IXPE Chandra Cassiopeia A

This image of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A combines some of the first X-ray data collected by NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, shown in magenta, with high-energy X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, in blue. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/IXPE

It’s first light for one of the newest space observatories! The Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer team has released their first image, taken after a month-long commissioning phase for the spacecraft. And it’s a beauty.

IXPE looked at a favorite target among space observatories, the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. While x-rays are invisible to human eyes, the amount of magenta color in this image corresponds to the intensity of X-ray light observed. Needless to say, it’s intense with high energy x-rays.  

For contrast, the team overlaid observations by another x-ray observatory, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which shows up as the veins of blue throughout the image. Chandra and IXPE have different types of detectors, and therefore capture different levels of angular resolution, or sharpness. Together, they can produce more complete and detailed data on high energy sources in the Universe.

The image is also a nod to the venerable Chandra observatory, as Cas A was Chandra’s first light image, as well. That mission launched in 1999 as NASA

Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. It's vision is "To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity."

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>NASA’s flagship mission for X-ray astronomy, and is still operating in a high Earth orbit.

IXPE Cassiopeia A

This image from NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer maps the intensity of X-rays coming from the observatory’s first target, the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. Colors ranging from cool purple and blue to red and hot white correspond with the increasing brightness of the X-rays. The image was created using X-ray data collected by IXPE between January 11-18. Credit: NASA

Since Earth’s atmosphere absorbs the vast majority of X-rays, they are not detectable from Earth-based telescopes. Space-based x-ray telescopes have allowed for new discoveries and new understandings of our cosmos.

This new image from IXPE contains data collected from January 11-18. The mission launched on December 9, 2021, on board a SpaceX

Commonly known as SpaceX, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company that was founded by Elon Musk in 2002. Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, the company designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. IXPE was placed in an orbit around Earth’s equator at an altitude of approximately 372 miles (600 kilometers).

IXPE is a joint effort between NASA and the Italian Space Agency, and is the first space observatory dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from some of the most fascinating and dynamic objects in the universe.

The team said all instruments are functioning well aboard the observatory, which is on a quest to study some of the most mysterious and extreme objects in the universe.

NASA Imaging X ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE)

NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission 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. Credit: NASA

Cassiopeia A is the shredded remains of a star that exploded several thousand years ago. It is the youngest known supernova remnant in our Milky Way

The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Earth, and is named for its appearance from Earth. It is a barred spiral galaxy that contains an estimated 100-400 billion stars and has a diameter between 150,000 and 200,000 light-years.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>Milky Way Galaxy and resides 10,000 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia, so the star actually blew up 10,000 years before the light reached Earth in the late 1600s.

The shock waves from the explosion have swept up surrounding gas, heating it to high temperatures and accelerating cosmic ray particles to make a cloud that glows in X-ray light. Other telescopes have studied Cassiopeia A before, but IXPE will allow researchers to examine it in a new way. The team is currently analyzing all the data to learn more, according to Martin C. Weisskopf, the IXPE principal investigator, in a press release.

For example, IXPE will allow scientists to see, for the first time, how the amount of polarization varies across the supernova remnant, which is about 10 light-years in diameter.

“IXPE’s future polarization images should unveil the mechanisms at the heart of this famous cosmic accelerator,” said Roger Romani, an IXPE co-investigator at Stanford University. “To fill in some of those details, we’ve developed a way to make IXPE’s measurements even more precise using machine learning techniques. We’re looking forward to what we’ll find as we analyze all the data.”

Originally published on Universe Today.