Scientists have successfully tested a key instrument for a next-generation gamma-ray telescope that will ultimately stare down the barrel of massive black hole particle jets.
The innovative gamma-ray detector, a prototype of a much larger detector which will be integrated into the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) for a 2006 satellite launch, was tested on a 29 million-cubic-foot NASA scientific balloon that flew for three hours from Palestine, Texas, on August 4 at 127,000 feet, above 99.5 percent of the atmosphere.
This was a joint effort by researchers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), Stanford University, the University of California Santa Cruz, the Naval Research Laboratory, and Hiroshima University in Japan.
"The detector worked essentially flawlessly throughout the flight," said Dave Thompson, the Goddard scientist who led the project. "The flight gave us an extra level of confidence in the instrument design, and the data we collected will support the data analysis system now being constructed for GLAST."
GLAST will study celestial gamma rays, particles of light millions to billions of times more energetic than visible light, which our eyes can detect, ultraviolet light and X rays. Gamma rays are created by the most violent phenomena in the Universe, such as black holes, neutron stars and star explosions.
GLAST will also study gamma-ray bursts, the most powerful explosions in the Universe, second only to the theoretical Big Bang. These mysterious bursts are detected by satellites almost daily, last only for a few seconds, and come to us from origins unknown.
The GLAST Balloon Flight Engineering Model, tested on the balloon flight, was a working prototype of one of the 16 modules that will comprise the GLAST Large Area Telescope. The model had the same types of detectors that will be used on the satellite a plastic scintillator anticoincidence detector built by Goddard; a silicon strip tracker built by the University of California at Santa Cruz; a CsI calorimeter provided by the Naval Research Laboratory; and a data acquisition system built by SLAC and Stanford University.
"The success of the high-altitude balloon flight of the Large Area Telescope prototype achieves a critical milestone for the GLAST mission," said Peter Michelson of Stanford University, Principal Investigator for the GLAST Large Area Telescope. "It is a validation of the instrument design we will fly on GLAST. This design incorporates state-of-the-art technology that allows an extraordinary leap forward in capability."
GLAST is an international collaboration of astrophysicists and particle physicists, with funding from NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy and agencies in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Sweden. The National Scientific Balloon Facility, operated for NASA by New Mexico State University, managed the balloon launch.
For more information about GLAST, refer to: http//www-glast.sonoma.edu/
For images of the balloon flight, refer to: http//www.slac.stanford.edu/~mizuno/Photos/BFEM/thumbnail.html
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