NICER / ISS Science Nugget for December 6, 2018
NICER planning to "X-ray" the Solar System
NICER has recently begun an investigation of the dust clouds believed to be accumulating at the Earth-Moon Lagrange points L4 and L5. Known as "Kordylewski clouds," their existence was predicted in the early 1960s, but recently might have been verified to exist by imaging in the visible band through polarizer filters.
NICER's prime science is to look at objects outside the Solar System, but has the throughput and sensitivity to use bright X-ray sources to "X-ray" the local environment. The new NICER investigation uses one of the brightest X-ray pulsars known, the Crab Pulsar (and its Nebula), as a source of X-rays to back-light the Kordylewski clouds. If this is successful, NICER should be able to either determine the density of dust in these clouds or provide a firm upper limit on this density.
Currently in the planning stage, NICER will make an X-ray measurement of the L4 region (see figure) in the final week of 2018.