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NASA's new space mission may unravel extreme astrophysical processes

Written by: Staff

Washington, May 2 : NASA scientists are all set to launch a new space mission this month, which may unveil various extreme astrophysical processes in nature such as pulsars, remnants of supernovae, and supermassive black holes.

The Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), to be launched on 16 May 2008, is also expected to help scientists comprehend the origin and distribution of dark matter.

Detailing the mission in a report, three scientists from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt revealed that the GLAST is a four-tonne observatory packed with state-of-the-art particle detectors.

Appearing in the journal Physics World, the report also reveals that the observatory will use its detectors to study the gamma-ray sky in unprecedented detail.

Gamma rays the most difficult form of electromagnetic radiation to track in space because of their very high frequency and energy.

While visible light reveals thousands of stars and individual planets moving slowly across the sky, studying the skies at gamma-ray frequencies reveals a much weirder picture of space.

Gamma rays are produced by collisions between charged, very rapidly moving, particles and matter or light.

The researchers say that the high frequency photons that are emitted from these collisions provide a glimpse of the most extreme astrophysical processes known.

However, none of the existing ground-based gamma rays detectors have so far been sophisticated enough to measure these emissions in any detail over long periods.

The researchers have revealed that a key reason for embarking on the project is to look for signatures of as-yet-unknown fundamental physical processes.

"We expect GLAST to have a large impact on many areas of astrophysics but what is most exciting are the surprises: with any luck, the greatest GLAST science has not even been thought of yet," Julie McEnery, Steve Ritz and Neil Gehrels of NASA's Goddard Space Centre, write.


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