NASA's Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer could give us unprecedented views of black holes and neutron stars.

Black Hole Explorer

NASA just awarded SpaceX a contract to launch what the agency's calling a "groundbreaking astrophysics mission:" NASA's Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission, which could one day allow astronomers to uncover the mysteries behind black holes and neutron stars.

The $50.3 million mission is planning to launch three space telescopes that are capable of analyzing the polarization of cosmic X-rays. With that kind of data, we could find out how supermassive black holes or pulsar wind nebulae — windstorms that follow supernovae — are formed.

Revealing Physics

The IXPE mission was selected back in 2017 as one of NASA's small astrophysics missions.

"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," Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, said in a statement at the time. The project, he said, "will open a new window on the universe for astronomers to peer through."

A preliminary launch date is set for April 2021 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. It's unlikely it will take up the full payload of the rocket, as points out.

READ MORE: SpaceX contracted by NASA to launch black hole and neutron star research craft [TechCrunch]

More on black holes: New Research Reveals That Black Holes Can Die 

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