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.
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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.
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: