IXPE (Imaging X Ray Polarimetry Explorer) is the satellite launched from Kennedy Space Center on December 2021 with on board three telescopes observing the universe at high energies and measuring the polarisation in X-rays emitted by large cosmic sources such as supernovas, black holes and pulsars.
IXPE is a NASA mission but it was developed with a strong Italian support by ASI – Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, INFN – Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare and INAF – Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica.
OHB Italia, as unique industrial partner, realized fundamental parts of the satellite: the Detector Unit Electronics (BEE), the so-called Filter and Calibration Wheel Mechanism and the Detector Service Unit (DSU) which controls the Detector Units and provides a variety of functions as thermal control of detector, collecting scientific data and also interfaces to the rest of the spacecraft.
The high expectations of the astrophysical community before the launch are now a reality: IXPE is analysing celestial objects with extreme magnetic-gravitational fields with a detail never seen before.
Its latest discovery concerns Sagittarius A, the supermassive black hole located in the constellation Sagittarius, at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. IXPE suggests that the ancient sleeping giant woke up recently, about 200 years ago, to “eat” gas and other cosmic debris in its surroundings.
Sagittarius A lies more than 25,000 light years from Earth, the closest supermassive black hole to us, with a mass estimated to be millions of times than of our Sun. IXPE detected relatively recent brightly X-ray indicating that the supermassive black hole was not so quiescent a few centuries ago.
The polarisation angle acts like a compass, pointing us to the mysterious source of the long-last illumination. Analysing the data, the team found that the X-rays reflected light produced by an intense, short-lived glow is referred to an event occurred about 200 years ago, roughly in the early 19th century.
Thanks to IXPE the X-ray astronomy has really taken an innovative and strong step forward.
Photo credits: Wikipedia & NASA