NASA’s explorer helps unlock secrets of exploded star

The silhouette of US engineer and NASA astronaut Megan McArthur is seen past the NASA logo in the Webb Auditorium at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, on June 7, 2022. (STEFANI REYNOLDS / AFP)

LOS ANGELES – For the first time, astronomers have measured and mapped polarized X-rays from the remains of an exploded star, using NASA's Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), the agency said on Tuesday.

The findings, which come from observations of a stellar remnant called Cassiopeia A, shed new light on the nature of young supernova remnants, according to NASA.

Launched on Dec 9, 2021, IXPE is a collaboration project between NASA and the Italian Space Agency. It is the first satellite that can measure the polarization of X-ray light with this level of sensitivity and clarity.

Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) is the first satellite that can measure the polarization of X-ray light with this level of sensitivity and clarity

Cassiopeia A was the first object IXPE observed after it began collecting data.

READ MORE: NASA confirms DART mission changed asteroid's motion in space

"Without IXPE, we have been missing crucial information about objects like Cassiopeia A," said Pat Slane at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian, who leads the IXPE investigations of supernova remnants.

"This result is teaching us about a fundamental aspect of the debris from this exploded star — the behavior of its magnetic fields," he said. 

“Pillars of Creation” captured

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has captured the iconic Pillars of Creation, where new stars are forming within dense clouds of gas and dust, the agency said on Wednesday.

READ MORE: NASA's Webb telescope detects CO2 in exoplanet atmosphere

The three-dimensional pillars look like majestic rock formations, but are far more permeable. These columns are made up of cool interstellar gas and dust that appear semi-transparent in near-infrared light, according to NASA.

This combination image provided by NASA on Oct 19, 2022, shows the Pillars of Creation as imaged by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 2014 (left) and by NASA's James Webb Telescope. (PHOTO / NASA, ESA, CSA, STSCL VIA AP)

Webb's new view of the Pillars of Creation, which were first made famous when imaged by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, will help researchers revamp their models of star formation by identifying far more precise counts of newly formed stars, along with the quantities of gas and dust in the region, said NASA.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world's premier space science observatory.

ALSO READ: NASA to showcase Webb space telescope's first full-color images

Webb will solve mysteries in the solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it, according to NASA.

Webb is an international program led by NASA with European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency.