A new telescope is ready to head for orbit. Instead of the sleek profile of Hubble Space Telescope, though, it looks like a big box with long, skinny wings. Instead of mirrors or lenses, it'll use electronic detectors to view the sky. And instead of visible light, it'll study the most powerful form of energy, known as gamma rays.
The telescope is called GLAST -- the Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope -- and it's scheduled for launch as early as this week.
Astronomers already know quite a bit about the gamma-ray sky. They know, for example, that gamma rays are produced by some of the most powerful objects and events in the universe: exploding stars, hot gas around supermassive black holes, and perhaps even collisions between particles of dark matter.
But at a briefing last year, NASA scientist Dave Thompson pointed out that there's still a lot to learn:
THOMPSON: The universe is populated with powerful, exotic objects and processes that produce gamma rays. This much we know. But we've only scratched the surface of the how and why. We have so much to learn about how these things work, and more importantly, how these gamma-ray sources affect the universe on the large scale. And this is where GLAST comes in. [:24]
Gamma rays can't be focused by a normal telescope, so GLAST uses special instruments to detect them. With these tools, it'll be able to image the entire sky in just three hours, providing new insights into some of the most dynamic objects in the universe.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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