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Fermi on Earth, solar arrays folded
|Organization||NASA, United States Department of Energy, and government agencies in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.|
|Major contractors||General Dynamics|
|Launch date||2008-06-11 16:05 UTC|
|Launched from||Space Launch Complex 17-B Cape Canaveral Air Force Station|
|Launch vehicle||Delta II 7920-H|
|Mission length||elapsed: 4 years and 12 days|
|Orbit height||550 km (340 mi)|
|Orbit period||~ 95 minutes|
|LAT||Large Area Telescope|
|GBM||Gamma-ray Burst Monitor|
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope , formerly referred to as the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), is a space observatory being used to perform gamma-ray astronomy observations from low Earth orbit. Its main instrument is the Large Area Telescope (LAT), with which astronomers mostly intend to perform an all-sky survey studying astrophysical and cosmological phenomena such as active galactic nuclei, pulsars, other high-energy sources and dark matter. Another instrument aboard Fermi, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM; formerly GLAST Burst Monitor), is being used to study gamma-ray bursts.
Fermi was launched on 11 June 2008 at 16:05 GMT aboard a Delta II 7920-H rocket. The mission is a joint venture of NASA, the United States Department of Energy, and government agencies in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.
Fermi includes two scientific instruments, the Large Area Telescope (LAT) and the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM). The LAT is an imaging gamma-ray detector (a pair-conversion instrument) which detects photons with energy from about 30 million to about 300 billion electron volts (30 MeV to 300 GeV), with a field of view of about 20% of the sky; it may be thought of as a sequel to the EGRET instrument on the Compton gamma ray observatory. The GBM consists of 14 scintillation detectors (twelve sodium iodide crystals for the 8 keV to 1 MeV range and two bismuth germanate crystals with sensitivity from 150 keV to 30 MeV), and can detect gamma-ray bursts in that energy range across the whole of the sky not occluded by the Earth.
General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems (formerly Spectrum Astro and now Orbital Sciences) in Gilbert, Arizona designed and built the spacecraft that carries the instruments. It travels in a low, circular orbit with a period of about 95 minutes. Its normal mode of operation maintains its orientation so that the instruments will look away from the earth, with a “rocking” motion to equalize the coverage of the sky. The view of the instruments will sweep out across most of the sky about 16 times per day. The spacecraft can also maintain an orientation that points to a chosen target.
Both science instruments underwent environmental testing, including vibration, vacuum, and high and low temperatures to ensure that they can withstand the stresses of launch and continue to operate in space. They were integrated with the spacecraft at the General Dynamics ASCENT facility in Gilbert, Arizona.
Data from the instruments are available to the public through the Fermi Science Support Center web site. Software for analyzing the data is also available.
NASA’s Alan Stern, associate administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters, launched a public competition 7 Feb 2008, closing 31 Mar 2008, to rename GLAST in a way that would “capture the excitement of GLAST’s mission and call attention to gamma-ray and high-energy astronomy... something memorable to commemorate this spectacular new astronomy mission... a name that is catchy, easy to say and will help make the satellite and its mission a topic of dinner table and classroom discussion”.
NASA designed the mission with a five-year lifetime, with a goal of ten years of operations.
The key scientific objectives of the Fermi mission have been described as:
The National Academies of Sciences ranked this mission as a top priority. Many new possibilities and discoveries are anticipated to emerge from this single mission and greatly expand our view of the Universe. (The following list is abbreviated as discoveries are made. To read about discoveries already made, see "Discoveries" below.)
On 4 Mar 2008 the spacecraft arrived at the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Florida. On 4 Jun 2008, after several previous delays, launch status was retargeted for June 11 at the earliest, the last delays resulting from the need to replace the Flight Termination System batteries. The launch window extended from 11:45 a.m. until 1:40 p.m. EDT (15:45-17:40 GMT) daily, until 7 Aug 2008.
Launch occurred successfully on 11 Jun 2008 at 16:05, and the spacecraft separated from the carrier rocket about 75 minutes later. The spacecraft departed from pad B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 17 aboard a Delta 7920H-10C rocket.
GLAST received some minor modifications to its computer software 2008-06-23.
Computers operating both the LAT and GBM and most of the LAT’s components were turned on, 2008-06-24. The LAT high voltage was turned on, 2008-06-25, and it began detecting high-energy particles from space, but minor adjustments were still needed to calibrate the instrument. The GBM high voltage was also turned on, 2008-06-25, but the GBM still required one more week of testing/calibrations before searching for gamma-ray bursts.
After presenting an overview of the Fermi instrumentation and goals, Jennifer Carson of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory had concluded that the primary goals were “all achievable with the all-sky scanning mode of observing”. Fermi switched to "sky survey mode" on 26 June 2008 so as to begin sweeping its field of view over the entire sky every three hours (every two orbits).
The first major discovery came when the space telescope detected a pulsar in the CTA 1 supernova remnant that appeared to emit radiation in the gamma ray bands only, a first for its kind. This new pulsar sweeps the earth every 316.86 milliseconds and is about 4,600 light years away.
In September 2008, the gamma-ray burst GRB 080916C in the constellation Carina was recorded by the Fermi telescope. This burst is notable as having “the largest apparent energy release yet measured”. The explosion had the power of about 9,000 ordinary supernovae, and the relativistic jet of material ejected in the blast must have moved at a minimum of 99.9999% the speed of light. Overall, GRB 080916C had “the greatest total energy, the fastest motions, and the highest-energy initial emissions” ever seen.
In February 2010, it was announced that Fermi-LAT had determined that supernova remnants act as enormous accelerators for cosmic particles. This determination fulfills one of the stated missions for this project.
In March 2010 it was announced that active galactic nuclei are not responsible for most gamma-ray background radiation. Though active galactic nuclei do produce some of the gamma-ray radiation detected here on Earth, less than 30% originates from these sources. The search now is to locate the sources for the remaining 70% or so of all gamma-rays detected. Possibilities include star forming galaxies, galactic mergers, and yet-to-be explained dark matter interactions.
In November 2010, it was announced two gamma-ray & x-ray bubbles were detected around Earth’s galaxy, the Milky Way. The bubbles extend about 25 thousand light years distant above and below the center of the galaxy. The galaxy's diffuse gamma-ray fog hampered prior observations, but the discovery team led by D. Finkbeiner, building on research by G. Dobler, worked around this problem.
In early 2012, Fermi/GLAST observed the highest energy light ever seen in a solar eruption.
At the flare's peak, the LAT detected gamma rays with two billion times the energy of visible light, or about four billion electron volts (GeV), easily setting a record for the highest-energy light ever detected during or immediately after a solar flare—NASA
The Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) (formerly GLAST Burst Monitor) detects sudden flares of gamma-rays produced by gamma ray bursts and solar flares. Its scintillators are on the sides of the spacecraft to view all of the sky which is not blocked by the earth. The design is optimized for good resolution in time and photon energy.
"Gamma-ray bursts are so bright we can see them from billions of light years away, which means they occurred billions of years ago, and we see them as they looked then," stated Charles Meegan of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
The Large Area Telescope (LAT) detects individual gamma rays using technology similar to that used in terrestrial particle accelerators. Photons hit thin metal sheets, converting to electron-positron pairs, via a process known as pair production. These charged particles pass through interleaved layers of silicon microstrip detectors, causing ionization which produce detectable tiny pulses of electric charge. Researchers can combine information from several layers of this tracker to determine the path of the particles. After passing through the tracker, the particles enter the calorimeter, which consists of a stack of caesium iodide scintillator crystals to measure the total energy of the particles. The LAT's field of view is large, about 20% of the sky. The resolution of its images is modest by astronomical standards, a few arc minutes for the highest-energy photons and about 3 degrees at 100 MeV. The LAT is a bigger and better successor to the EGRET instrument on NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory satellite in the 1990s. Several countries produced the components of the LAT, who then sent the components for assembly at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
Education and public outreach are important components of the Fermi project. The main Fermi education and public outreach website at http://glast.sonoma.edu offers gateways to resources for students, educators, scientists, and the public. NASA’s Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) group operates the Fermi education and outreach resources at Sonoma State University.
The 2011 Bruno Rossi Prize was awarded to Bill Atwood, Peter Michelson and the Fermi LAT team "for enabling, through the development of the Large Area Telescope, new insights into neutron stars, supernova remnants, cosmic rays, binary systems, active galactic nuclei and gamma-ray bursts."
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: GLAST|
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