For release: 05-01-03
Photo release #: 03-070
NASA Marshall Center to play major role in new space telescope - Space Station observatory will study the most energetic particles in universe
Led by Dr. James H. Adams Jr. of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., NASA is contributing to an International Space Station-based investigation of extremely energetic cosmic particles. Behind Adams is a prototype for a portion of the largest fresnel lens ever placed in orbit.
A joint mission with the European and Japanese space agencies, the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO) will study the most energetic particles in the universe. From its unique Space Station vantage point, EUSO will look down on Earth's atmosphere to observe fluorescent light flashes generated by the interaction of extreme-energy cosmic particles. Too brief to be seen by the human eye, these light flashes come from the collision of a single subatomic particle having the kinetic energy of a major league pitcher's fastball.
Each particle coming from the initial collision also collides with other atoms creating a second generation of particles. This process repeats, multiplying the numbers until a strong shower of secondary particles in created. The fluorescent light emitted as this "shower" passes though the air is bright enough to be observed by the observatory's large wide-angle camera aboard the Space Station.
Nothing is known about the sources of these cosmic particles, historically dubbed "cosmic rays." Past investigations, conducted from the ground, have recorded cosmic particles at energy levels so extreme even their existence contradicts our current understanding.
To solve this mystery, the EUSO investigation will measure the particles' energies, track their arrival directions and take additional measurements to identify the types of particles being observed.
NASA's portion of the investigation is a joint collaboration between the Marshall Center and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Both are partners in the National Space Science and Technology Center in Huntsville. The other partners in EUSO are Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the University of California in Los Angeles and the University of California in Berkeley.
The EUSO telescope will have the largest fresnel lens ever placed in orbit. Weighing much less than conventional optics, fresnel lenses have multiple concentric zones, each forming a lens segment. Acting together, these segments collect and focus the light from these particle showers. This lens type is named for Augustin Fresnel, a French scientist who first developed it for lighthouses.
The lens will be manufactured by the Marshall Center in its Space Optics Manufacturing and Technology Center from a design created by UAH. The EUSO telescope is expected to launch in 2009. (NASA?MSFC/D. Stoffer)