GLAST (Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope) launching pretty soon

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Here's the next most interesting mission, due to launch in about a week:

The Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) is poised to launch spaceward atop a Delta 2 rocket at 11:45 a.m. EDT (1545 GMT) next Tuesday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Mission scientists hope the new $690 million gamma ray observatory will hunt down the origins of cosmic rays and shed new light on the mysteries of dark matter, supermassive black holes and pulsars among others. The space telescope is also built to help track gamma ray bursts - the most powerful explosions in the universe – and, researchers hope, help scientists test the laws of physics while seeking out new ones.


GLAST carries two primary telescopes to scan the entire night sky every three hours in the gamma ray range, a region of the spectrum beyond the visible range of the human eye. Its five-year mission will join NASA's Swift gamma ray telescope and Europe's Integral satellite in orbit, and follows the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which de-orbited in 2000.

"The gamma ray sky is incredibly variable," said GLAST project scientist Steve Ritz of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Things are changing all the time."

The observatory's Large Area Telescope is designed to map gamma ray sources in unprecedented detail, which researchers hope will trace the origins of signals discovered earlier by previous spacecraft.

A second tool, the GLAST Burst Detector, is expected to serve as a gamma ray burst lookout. It should automatically alert researchers on Earth when an explosion is detected or swing the entire observatory around to aim its main telescope at the event, mission scientists said.

But it is the lure of the unknown finds that could stem from GLAST that has some mission scientists chomping at the bit.

"The most important thing for us is the surprises that we expect to find," Ritz said.


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