IXPE mission: Italy and NASA for new X-ray astronomy
NASA has announced that it is funding a new mission to study the high-energy Universe: it will be called IXPE (Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer) and will allow astronomers to explore with unprecedented details some of the most extreme astronomic objects, including stellar and supermassive black holes, neutron stars and pulsars. The mission, scheduled for the end of 2020, will count on a considerable Italian contribution through the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) and the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF).
Exotic remote objects – such as black holes and neutron stars – are all extremely dense and heat surrounding gases up to temperatures of million grades. This heat produces the emission of X-rays by the gas, with a radiation that can be polarized, i.e. it can vibrate in a particular direction. The IXPE mission will use three space telescopes, with instruments that can measure the polarization of cosmic X-rays. The analyses will allow scientists to answer fundamental questions about the Universe most turbulent environments.
Among the innovative X-ray detectors, the IXPE mission will take the Gas Pixel Detectors (GPDs) on board, which have been designed, developed and qualified for space at the INFN in collaboration with INAF, and support from ASI. Thanks to the GPDs, which will be located in the three telescopes hosted inside the satellite, it will be possible to obtain unique data on cosmic sources that were inaccessible until today. ASI will also make its Malindi base available to receive data form the mission.
“I think that we should be proud of having introduced and developed a new detection technology bound to open a new observation window on the Universe”, said Ronaldo Bellazzini, from the INFN section of Pisa, Italian project co-lead and designer of the GPD concept. “I am very happy that a mission that was conceived many years ago by Enrico Costa from INAF with the crucial contribution of Ronaldo Bellazzini from INFN will finally be implemented, since it will open a new window on X-ray astronomy”, said Paolo Soffitta, team leader of IXPE activities at INAF.