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$188 Million Mission? NASA plans to launch new Mission in 2020 to study Black Holes

The IXPE mission will fly three space telescopes with cameras capable of measuring the polarisation of the cosmic X-rays around the exotic astronomical objects and will open a new window on the universe for astronomers to peer through

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Aerial View of NASA. Wikimedia
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Washington, Jan 4, 2017: NASA said on Wednesday it plans to launch in 2020 a $188 million mission that will allow astronomers to explore, for the first time, the hidden details of some of the most extreme and exotic astronomical objects, such as stellar and supermassive black holes, neutron stars and pulsars.

Objects such as black holes can heat surrounding gases to more than a million degrees. The high-energy X-ray radiation from this gas can be polarised – vibrating in a particular direction.

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The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will fly three space telescopes with cameras capable of measuring the polarisation of these cosmic X-rays, allowing scientists to answer fundamental questions about these turbulent and extreme environments where gravitational, electric and magnetic fields are at their limits, the US space agency said.

“We cannot directly image what’s going on near objects like black holes and neutron stars, but studying the polarisation of X-rays emitted from their surrounding environments reveals the physics of these enigmatic objects,” said Paul Hertz from the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

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“IXPE will open a new window on the universe for astronomers to peer through. Today, we can only guess what we will find,” Hertz noted.

NASA’s Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for new missions in September 2014. Fourteen proposals were submitted, and three mission concepts were selected for additional review by a panel of agency and external scientists.

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NASA determined the IXPE proposal provided the best science potential and most feasible development plan.

Ball Aerospace in Broomfield, Colorado, will provide the spacecraft and mission integration.

The Italian Space Agency will contribute the polarisation sensitive X-ray detectors, which were developed in Italy, NASA said. (IANS)

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NASA Photographs Mars InSight Lander From Space

The spacecraft will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until November 24, 2020

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NASA Photographs Mars InSight Lander From Space. Flickr

NASA has pinpointed the exact landing location of its newly launched InSight lander, using a powerful camera onboard another of the agency’s spacecraft, hovering around the Red Planet.

On November 26, InSight landed within a 130 km ellipse at Elysium Planitia on Mars. However, there was no way to determine exactly where it touched down within this region.

The HiRISE (which stands for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spotted Martian landscape and ground around the lander on Thursday, NASA said in a statement.

It released three new features on the Martian landscape, which appear to be teal. However, it is not their actual colour, but light reflected off their surfaces caused the colour to be saturated.

“The ground around the lander appears dark, having been blasted by its retro-rockets during descent. Look carefully for a butterfly shape, and you can make out the lander’s solar panels on either side,” NASA said.

HiRISE also spotted the lander’s heat shield and parachute, on December 6 and again on December 11, NASA said.

InSight, Mars, NASA, Martian Wind
InSight will study the interior of Mars, and will explore valuable science as NASA prepares to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars. VOA

They are within 1,000 feet (several hundred meters) of one another on Elysium Planitia, the flat lava plain selected as InSight’s landing location.

Meanwhile, the InSight lander also took a first selfie using the spacecraft’s robotic arm on December 6.

It snapped a mosaic made up of 11 images, which includes the lander’s solar panel and its entire deck, including its science instruments, weather sensor booms and UHF antenna.

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The lander also sent another set of mosaic composed of 52 individual photos, showcasing the “workspace” — the approximately 14-by-7-foot (4-by-2-metre) crescent of terrain directly in front of the spacecraft, NASA noted.

InSight will study the interior of Mars, and will explore valuable science as NASA prepares to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars.

The spacecraft will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until November 24, 2020. (IANS)