Yay! GLAST works!
The Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope launched into orbit in early June. It’s been going through a rigorous testing period, but the main instrument (the Large Area Telescope, or LAT) is now sending down data, and word on the street (not that astronomers are ever seen on the street) is that it’s looking good.
GLAST detects super-high-energy gamma rays from exploding stars, black holes gobbling down matter, and other exotic and incredibly violent events. When a gamma ray hits the LAT, it’s converted into a pair of particles, an electron and a positron (an antimatter electron). Gamma rays are hard to track, but particles are like bullets, and their direction can be traced back into the sky, allowing scientists to create images of astronomical objects in gamma rays. The LAT is the highest-resolution gamma ray instrument ever flown. That means it has the sharpest vision yet.
I haven’t heard of any images being made yet, but they’ll be around soon. Don’t expect Hubble-like gorgeous space art; the LAT doesn’t work that way. But even if the images are a bit weird, I promise I’ll explain ’em and show you just why they’re so nifty.
If you want to keep track of GLAST, try reading the GLAST blog, written by project scientist Steve Ritz. He updates it pretty often with all sorts of GLASTy news.