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New NASA telescope gets to work

Latest update : 2008-08-27

Launched last June, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, formerly known as GLAST, has officially begun its mission of mapping the universe. NASA scientists hope the high-tech telescope will enable them to better understand the cosmos.

A new space telescope revealed the glowing gas of the Milky Way, pulsating stars and a flaring faraway galaxy as it began its mission to unveil the mysteries of cosmic gamma rays, NASA said.

The US space agency released Tuesday the first all-sky map created by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, previously known as GLAST, with two high-tech instruments that scientists hope will help them uncover mysteries.

The image was created with 95 hours of the instruments' first observations, displaying the probe's scientific potential. It took years for NASA's now-defunct Compton Gamma-ray Observatory to produce a similar map.

Fermi's telescope scans the entire sky every three hours.

"These fast snapshots will let scientists monitor rapidly changing sources," NASA said in a statement.

The 4.3 tonne telescope is outfitted with equipment to monitor gamma rays -- the highest-energy forms of light -- from cosmic sources that scientists hope will give insight into major events such as the formation of black holes.

It is also aimed at hunting for clues to explain the strange magnetized neutron stars known as pulsars.

By studying photons and other subatomic particles of the cosmos, the telescope may also unlock the mysteries of dark matter, which comprises about 25 percent of mass in the universe but is invisible to the naked eye, compared to the five percent of visible matter.

The remaining 70 percent is known as "dark energy," a little understood phenomenon which is believed to speed the expansion of the universe.

Scientists hope to gain vital information about the birth and evolution of the cosmos and study how black holes can spew jets of gas at stupendous speeds, according to NASA.

Fermi's first all-sky image shows gas and dust in the plane of the milky way glowing in gamma rays as well as the Crab Nebula, Vela and Geminga pulsars shining brightly.

The map also shows another bright spot shining about 7.1 billion light years away.

"This is 3C 454.3 in Pegasus, a type of active galaxy called a blazar. It's now undergoing a flaring episode that makes it especially bright," NASA said.

The telescope was renamed after American Nobel-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, a pioneer in high-energy physics.

The 690 million dollar project, which brings together governments and academic researchers in the US, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden, is aimed to last between five and 10 years.

Date created : 2008-08-27