Thursday, June 12, 2008

Telescope to pursue gamma rays

NASA on Wednesday launched a telescope to scout out elusive, super high-energy gamma rays lurking in the universe. The $690 million telescope will pick up where NASA’s Compton Gamma Ray Observatory left off before its deliberate destruction in 2000, but in a bigger and better way. In addition to the U.S., participating countries include Italy, France, Germany, Sweden and Japan. Gamma rays at the extreme end of high energy go splat when they encounter the earth’s upper atmosphere, so scientists must look to space observatories to uncover the secrets of gamma radiation. With superior technology and insight gained from Compton and other telescopes, Glast will be able to do in three hours, or two orbits of Earth survey the entire sky what Compton took 15 months to do. Glast and its particle detectors are much more sensitive and precise, and should provide an unprecedented view into the high-energy universe from a 555-km high orbit.