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NASA's GLAST settles into orbit to explore origins of the universe news
13 June 2008

Washington: With Nasa's high-tech GLAST telescope launched into orbit 565 kilometres (350 miles) above the earth astronomers will now get a chance to unveil the mysteries of cosmic gamma rays and also look deeper into the universe to learn about its origins.

artist image: NASAThe Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) reached orbit around 75 minutes after the launch on Wednesday aboard a two-stage Delta 2 rocket from the air force base at Cape Canaveral, Florida, Nasa said.

The 4.3 tonne GLAST carries equipment that will monitor gamma rays from cosmic sources, which scientists expect, will give insight into major events such as the formation of black holes. GLAST will also seek to look for clues that would explain the phenomenon of magnetized neutron stars, also  known as pulsars.

Gamma rays are the highest-energy forms of light.

Over a 5-10 year period the telescope will study photons and other subatomic particles of the cosmos hoping to provide scientists with insight into ''dark matter,'' which comprises about 25% of mass in the universe but is invisible to the naked eye. Scientists will also hope to glean critical information about the birth and evolution of the cosmos and study the emission of jets of gas at stupendous speeds by black holes, according to Nasa.

The mission is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed by NASA in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the US.

The science community is anxiously awaiting launch of operations as the project will open up the universe in new ways. According to NASA project scientists, the project will look at the ''last unexplored regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.''

Photo: NASAAccording to NASA, GLAST is a major advance over its predecessor EGRET, which was launched on board the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory in 1991. In mere days GLAST will make certain observations that took EGRET up to four years.

With high sensitivity GLAST is the first imaging gamma-ray observatory to survey the entire sky every day. It will give scientists a unique opportunity to learn about the ever-changing universe at extreme energies. GLAST will detect thousands of gamma-ray sources, most of which will be super-massive black holes in the cores of distant galaxies.

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NASA's GLAST settles into orbit to explore origins of the universe