Seeing the universe through gamma-ray eyes

Jul 09, 2008

The scientists have stopped holding their breath. Three weeks after the launch of the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), researchers from Stanford University, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and elsewhere have shaken awake the scientific instruments aboard their $690 million satellite, 350 miles above Earth, for the first time. And everything's working.

On the Large Area Telescope, the principal instrument on GLAST, the computers booted up properly, the 16 gamma-ray detectors came to life, and communications checked out well. The observatory's navigation system is following directions from the ground to turn toward interesting objects.

"I've been watching space projects for 30 years or so and I've never seen one go as smoothly as this one," said Roger Blandford, the director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, which is housed both on the main Stanford campus and at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC).

The telescope will see the normally invisible gamma rays from stars and other cosmic objects and offer a more complete view of some of the most violent events in the universe. GLAST will study, among other things, enormously powerful gamma-ray bursts, strange beams of charged particles from spinning black holes and pulses of energy from spinning neutron stars.

It may even find the gamma-ray signature of dark matter, the unseen material that may hold the universe together.

Data from the satellite already has begun flowing to the Instrument Science Operations Center at SLAC, where it is used to calibrate the telescope for the work ahead. The telescope is weeding out unwanted cosmic rays and measuring the first of the billion or so gamma rays it should eventually see from cosmic sources.

Some 30 collaboration members from around the world have come to SLAC to assist in the commissioning phase to bring the Large Area Telescope to its mission-ready performance.

"Everybody's really happy," said Rob Cameron, the manager of the SLAC operations center. "We've got plenty of work to do. We've got to calibrate the instrument, tune it up to prepare it for science."

GLAST is a NASA project, a consortium of six countries and 14 U.S. research institutions. At Stanford, project members come from SLAC, a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory; the Physics Department; the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory; and the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology.

Source: Stanford University

Explore further: Astronomers see pebbles poised to make planets

Related Stories

Hubble view: Wolf-Rayet stars, intense and short-lived

13 minutes ago

This NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Hubble Space Telescope picture shows a galaxy named SBS 1415+437 (also called SDSS CGB 12067.1), located about 45 million light-years from Earth. SBS 1415+437 is a Wolf-Rayet ...

Five properties of physics that affect your gas mileage

21 minutes ago

Physics is inescapable. It's everywhere, making your Frisbees fly, your toilets flush and your pasta water boil at a lower temperature at altitude. We've harnessed these forces, along with chemistry and engineering, ...

Crash test assesses plane emergency locator transmitters

39 minutes ago

The Cessna 172 airplane dangled 82 feet in the air – looking almost like it was coming in for a landing, except for the cables attaching it to a huge gantry at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, ...

Recommended for you

Astronomers see pebbles poised to make planets

9 hours ago

A team of astronomers led from St Andrews and Manchester universities today (6 July) announced the discovery of a ring of rocks circling a very young star. This is the first time these 'pebbles', thought ...

Small cosmic 'fish' points to big haul for SKA Pathfinder

10 hours ago

A wisp of cosmic radio waves, emitted before our solar system was born, shows that a new radio telescope will be able to detect galaxies other telescopes can't. The work, led by Dr James Allison of the Commonwealth ...

Gaia produces stellar density map of the Milky Way

10 hours ago

This image, based on housekeeping data from ESA's Gaia satellite, is no ordinary depiction of the heavens. While the image portrays the outline of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, and of its neighbouring Magellanic ...

Hubble view: Wolf-Rayet stars, intense and short-lived

Jul 03, 2015

This NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Hubble Space Telescope picture shows a galaxy named SBS 1415+437 (also called SDSS CGB 12067.1), located about 45 million light-years from Earth. SBS 1415+437 is a Wolf-Rayet ...

NASA image: Stellar sparklers that last

Jul 03, 2015

While fireworks only last a short time here on Earth, a bundle of cosmic sparklers in a nearby cluster of stars will be going off for a very long time. NGC 1333 is a star cluster populated with many young ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

menkaur
4 / 5 (1) Jul 10, 2008
the 2nd megadevice is online... (the first one is still being tested and made ready, but not for too long )
Modernmystic
4 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2008
Pffft. Give me a terrestrial planet finder over ten of these things. Let's look for the REAL interesting stuff for once.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.