GLAST: The Challenge of Too Much New Data

May 22, 2007

The astrophysics community enthusiastically awaits the upcoming launch of the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), the latest and most powerful gamma-ray telescope. But interpreting the huge amount of new data that GLAST will collect may prove difficult.

Until now, existing instruments have allowed astrophysicists to detect about 300 possible sources of gamma-rays in the universe, and scientists have had to analyze and classify these sources one by one. GLAST's increased sensitivity, 30 to 100 times greater than that of its predecessors, will allow the telescope to potentially detect thousands of new sources of gamma rays.

"We'll have a hard time identifying them," says Stanford Physicist Olaf Reimer. "We can't apply the individual approach for thousands of sources anymore. Researchers took 20 years to identify Geminga, the radio-quiet gamma ray pulsar, but we cannot spend 20 years on a single source again."

To address the scientific challenges GLAST will raise, Reimer and several colleagues organized a conference called "The Multi-messenger Approach to High-energy Gamma Ray Sources," which was held last July in Barcelona. This conference was the third in a series exclusively devoted to the problem of gamma-ray source identification. In a book to be published this June, based on the conference, Reimer suggests combining the established identification technique with a population-based statistical approach.

"The idea is to establish the characteristics of the populations hiding in the wells of new data," Reimer says. Then, researchers could proceed to single out the most appropriate candidates for new gamma-ray sources among those populations.

The problem with identifying new populations of gamma-ray sources is that astrophysicists do not know how the sources behave. "We know that active galactic nuclei occasionally flare, pulsars pulse, binaries have characteristic orbits… these are clear signatures," Reimer says. "But for new galactic phenomena, we don't have that knowledge."

Reimer admits this new scientific problem is tough. "But we have to address it, because you can only make science if you know what you're dealing with in the sky," he says.

Source: by María José Viñas, SLAC

Explore further: Two families of comets found around nearby star Beta Pictoris

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Google profit dips to $2.8 bn

7 hours ago

Google said Thursday its profit in the past quarter dipped slightly from a year earlier, even as revenues for the technology giant showed a sharp increase.

Shrinking resource margins in Sahel region of Africa

7 hours ago

The need for food, animal feed and fuel in the Sahel belt is growing year on year, but supply is not increasing at the same rate. New figures from 22 countries indicate falling availability of resources per ...

Recommended for you

New window on the early Universe

23 hours ago

Scientists at the Universities of Bonn and Cardiff see good times approaching for astrophysicists after hatching a new observational strategy to distill detailed information from galaxies at the edge of ...

Chandra's archives come to life

Oct 22, 2014

Every year, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory looks at hundreds of objects throughout space to help expand our understanding of the Universe. Ultimately, these data are stored in the Chandra Data Archive, ...

New robotic telescope revolutionizes the study of stars

Oct 22, 2014

In the last 8 months a fully robotic telescope in Tenerife has been carrying out high-precision observations of the motion of stellar surfaces. The telescope is the first in the SONG telescope network and ...

User comments : 0