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GLAST is Now Fermi

First light image reveals bright emission in the plane of the Milky Way (center), bright pulsars and super-massive black holes. Credit: NASA/DOE/International LAT Team

First light image reveals bright emission in the plane of the Milky Way (center), bright pulsars and super-massive black holes. Credit: NASA/DOE/International LAT Team

With “first light” successfully observed by the Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope, or GLAST, as it has been called until now, NASA has christened the space observatory with its new official name: The Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope. Named for Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, the telescope will delve into the mysteries of the high energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. This new space telescope will try to determine what the mysterious dark matter is composed of, how black holes emit immense jets of material to nearly the speed of light, and help crack the mysteries of solar flares, cosmic rays and the power explosions called gamma ray bursts. At a news conference today to announce the new name and first light observations, Steve Ritz, Project Scientist for the telescope said scientists world-wide are very excited about the telescope’s breakthrough capability. “GLAST has great discovery potential. We’re expecting surprises,” he said.

Since the spacecraft’s launch on June 11, the project team has been busy turning on the spacecraft’s various subsystems and calibrating the instruments. GLAST was developed in cooperation with the US Department of Energy and international partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Sweden. Over 100 international scientists are collaborating on this project. Fermi’s primary mission is for five years, with a goal of ten years of total operations.

The first image as seen above shows the bright gamma ray emissions in the plane of the Milky Way (center), bright pulsars and super-massive black holes. The Fermi Telescope saw in four days what a previous gamma ray mission, EGRET (Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment Telescope) imaged in nine years.

It also made detections of two active galaxies, and a blazar in the southern galactic plane, called 3C454.3, located about 7 billion light years from Earth, and a pulsar, called the Vela Pulsar located about 10 billion 1000 light years from Earth.

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope\'s first all-sky map made into a sphere to produce this view of the gamma-ray universe. Credit: NASA/DOE/International LAT Team

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope's first all-sky map made into a sphere to produce this view of the gamma-ray universe. Credit: NASA/DOE/International LAT Team

Video of Fermi’s first light detections.

The big advantage is Fermi’s huge field of view compared to previous gamma ray observatories. The entire sky is viewed about every two orbits or every 3 hours. Scientists say this is especially important because the gamma ray sky is constantly changing. With the telescope’s Burst Monitor, about one gamma ray burst has been detected every day from all areas of the sky.

Turning on the telescope has gone extremely smooth. “Everything worked as expected and then some,” said Ritz. “None of us could have asked for such a smooth turn on. It’s a credit to the world wide team of engineers, scientists, programmers and support people who all worked together as a seamless team over many years. It went like clockwork that went ahead of the clock. That doesn’t happen by accident. It was due to the great preparation work.”

Jon Morse from NASA’s Astrophysics Division calls the Fermi Telescope ‘The Extreme Machine’ and said to expect an exciting pace of new discoveries in the days and years ahead.

Here’s Fermi’s new logo:

New Logo for the Fermi Telescope

New Logo for the Fermi Telescope


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sili August 26, 2008, 1:24 PM

    Slightly off-topic, but these projections reminded me:

    I’d really really love to get an interactive applet that’ll allow to drag and rotate these full sky images!

    The ellipsis-projection (I forget its name) is neat, but I’d still like to get a more 3D grasp of the CMB. The option of looking at it from both the inside and outside of the sphere would be neat, too, but I’ll settle for just and interactive ball. I know there’s an inflatable version of the microwave sky (without subtractions), I’ve seen Phil Plait with one, but I don’t need something that concrete. Computer graphics would do nicely.

  • Don Alexander August 26, 2008, 2:35 PM

    Well, I somehow liked GLAST better… The FGRST sounds like what some lovestruck person would say upon experiencing brainfreeze when seeing the target of affection…

  • Jon Hanford August 26, 2008, 2:35 PM

    Thanks, Nancy for the great article on the long-awaited first images from Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope. So nice to see those hi-energy photons in the all-sky images, especially considering the short exposure times. One minor point, however. The Vela Pulsar lies within our galaxy at an estimated distance of 1000 l.y. It’s still amazing to see the truly extragalactic blazar 3C 454.3 in such a short exposure. The journey has just begun & who knows what might turn up in the coming years.

  • DrNecropolis August 26, 2008, 2:55 PM

    “Nobody expected such a smooth turn on”

    Yep, that’s sexy science at its best for you. And it’s always better when its Fermi! Ha! I’m soooo not funny… Seriously though, I’m looking forward to more from GLAST.

  • RetardedFishFrog August 26, 2008, 4:33 PM

    I wouldn’t want to be within a billion light years of that Blazar. That thing is probably sterilizing a huge swath of the Universe. On the other hand, at a certain distance, the mutagenic gamma rays may catalyze the evolution of life on some alien planet. It make more retarded… Give life good.

  • Pauly August 26, 2008, 8:18 PM

    Wow thats Original :)

  • john August 26, 2008, 9:12 PM

    From what I remember of Enrico Fermi’s biography he was worthy of having a satellite name for him. I believe he was not only a top scientist but also a gentleman deserving respect for him off duty behaviour.

  • Nancy Atkinson August 27, 2008, 6:08 AM

    @Jon Hanford — thanks for the correction!

  • greg c August 27, 2008, 7:22 AM

    that logo is terrible. horrendous design.

  • LLDIAZ August 28, 2008, 7:20 AM

    These are the kinds of images I love to see you get more detail. The true color images look more like fireworks.

  • Jon Hanford August 28, 2008, 8:38 AM

    @ LLDIAZ Since these are gamma-ray images, pseudocolor images must supplant ‘true color’ images, since our eyes are insensitive to GRs.

  • btw August 28, 2008, 11:19 AM

    “Turning on the telescope has gone extremely smooth.”

    I wish someone would proofread these articles. Universe Today isn’t a website about rodeos or moonshine and confusing adjectives with adverbs only promotes the decline of the English language.

  • Nancy Atkinson August 28, 2008, 11:21 AM

    That was a direct quote.

  • LLDIAZ August 29, 2008, 11:39 AM

    I’m just glad you guys do what you do!
    I love telling my kids what I’ve learned and seeing the expressions on there faces when I describe a nebula or a black hole.
    So when you get crap like that over grammar just know that there’s guys out here that appreciate what your doing…