NASA eyes up supermassive black holes, neutron stars

Hidden wonders of the universe

NASA will embark on a new mission to explore supermassive black holes, neutron stars, and pulsars hidden within the depths of space.

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission was chosen among 14 other proposals during the rigorous selection process for NASA's Astrophysics Explorer programmes.

It's expected to launch in 2018 and will cost $188m – a modest price tag compared to NASA's largest missions on the Flagship programme often valued at over $1bn.

The IXPE mission will send three telescopes to analyse the powerful cosmic X-rays emitted from objects with extreme gravitational, electric, and magnetic fields.

The telescopes will operate alongside the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and XMM Newton to spot X-ray emissions from some of the most energetic objects in space.

"We cannot directly image what's going on near objects like black holes and neutron stars, but studying the polarization of X-rays emitted from their surrounding environments reveals the physics of these enigmatic objects," said Paul Hertz, NASA's astrophysics division director for the Science Mission Directorate.

Under Barack Obama's administration, NASA's 2017 fiscal year budget [PDF] is $19bn, a slight decrease of $300m from the space agency's final spending bill in 2016. It is unknown how the current President-elect, Donald Trump, will affect NASA's budget in the future, but its Explorer programme is designed to be cheap and quicker to execute.

Although missions on the Explorer programme are smaller, the scientific payload can be great. It has launched more than 90 missions, and has made a list of important discoveries such as Earth's Van Allen radiation belts, magnetosphere, and the shape of its gravity field.

The Cosmic Background mission in 1989 led to the 2006 Nobel Prize for uncovering the near-perfect blackbody and anisotropies of the cosmic microwave background radiation. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022