The year 2008 marks the start of a new era in physics with the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), one of the most eagerly anticipated instruments in the history of the physical sciences. But the LHC is not the only upcoming discovery machine. Another is the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST).
GLAST brings two bottles of wine to the party: it covers an almost unexplored range of gamma-ray energy, and it can precisely measure the arrival time of gamma pulses. These capabilities allow GLAST to probe various proposals for extending the current Standard Model of particle physics.
Working together, the LHC and GLAST may be able to identify the dark matter that accounts for the bulk of the material content of the universe.
This coming spring scientists will open dramatic new views of the universe. NASA plans to launch the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) to explore exotic environments such as those of supermassive black holes and neutron stars, which generate enormous power in high-energy gamma rays. Around the same time, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics near Geneva, will begin providing an unparalleled view of nature’s fundamental building blocks and their interactions at the smallest distances. GLAST may probe some of the same microscopic phenomena as the LHC does and show us how these processes work in their natural cosmic settings. Such exciting and revolutionary times in science are rare.
Gamma rays are electromagnetic radiation at the highest-energy, or shortest-wavelength, end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Vastly more energetic than optical light or even x-rays, gamma-ray photons each carry so much energy that it is possible to convert some of that energy into particles of matter, through processes that are implied by Albert Einstein’s famous E = mc2 relation.
William B. Atwood, Peter F. Michelson and Steven Ritz are part of the large international team of scientists, engineers and technicians that made GLAST a reality. Atwood, currently an adjunct professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has worked on numerous particle physics experiments, including the SLAC experiment credited for having discovered quarks. He is also a noted violin-maker with more than 50 instruments bearing his label. Michelson is a professor at Stanford University and the principal investigator for the GLAST Large Area Telescope. He began his scientific career studying superconductivity and turned his interest to astrophysics after developing instrumentation for gravitational-wave detection. Ritz, an astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, is the GLAST project scientist. He is also a music composer.