Science

NASA's gamma-ray telescope lifts off

NASA's powerful new gamma-ray telescope launched smoothly on Wednesday, bringing the space agency one step closer to exploring unknown phenomena such as dark matter and black holes.

NASA's powerful new gamma-ray telescope launched smoothly on Wednesday, bringing the space agency one step closer to further exploring unknown phenomena such as dark matter and black holes.

The Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) will "explore the most extreme environments in the universe," NASA said in a statement, and search for new laws of physics. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, and the gamma-ray sky is very different from that perceived by the naked eye, the agency said.

The Delta II rocket carrying GLAST lifted off at 12:05 ET and fired upward for five minutes and 35 seconds before entering a "coast phase." The rocket was scheduled to enter a second blasting phase that would take it farther out into space.

NASA said GLAST will be able to detect thousands of gamma-ray sources, most of which are super-massive black holes in the cores of distant galaxies. The laboratory is designed to learn more about how black holes can accelerate jets of material to near light speed, and how gamma-ray bursts are created.

The observatory will also allow scientists to observe the entire sky every day for the first time. Data sent back from the telescope will also allow scientists to answer questions about pulsars and the origin of cosmic rays.

GLAST picks up where its predecessor, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, left off in 1999. The new observatory will have 30 times the sensitivity of Compton and is expected to last at least five years, with the option of an extension to 10 years.

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