Through the Looking Glast

You have no idea how long it took me to come up with that pun. I’ve wasted my life.

I’m writing, of course, about the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, or Glast. It was launched today on top of a Delta II rocket, and once it reaches orbit it will be inspected for about two weeks before being set on its mission: to scour the skies for cosmic sources of radiation. I picked up the story from BBC News.

Gamma rays are the most energetic members of the electromagnetic spectrum, and they are emitted only by the most powerful, the most massive, the most destructive objects in the universe. These include the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, the neutron stars that rotate dozens of times in a single second, and catastrophic explosions. When the telescope is activated, it may even turn up previously unknown sources of gamma rays.

One mystery on which Glast may shed light is the immense jets of matter blasted into space by supermassive black holes. These jets stretch out into space to immense distances, and extend above and below the galactic plain. Experts currently don’t have an explanation for what powers these jets; Glast may provide a clue or two.

This is what the space program should be about: probing into the fundamental nature of the universe. I can’t wait to see what images it returns.


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