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NASA Opens GLAST Burst Monitor Instrument Operations Center
04.09.08
Jennifer Morcone
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
256-544-0034
Jennifer.J.Morcone@nasa.gov

Marshall Release No. 08-039

The GLAST Burst Monitor team The GLAST Burst Monitor team. From left: John Horack, Steve Elrod, Narayana Bhat, Fred Kroeger, Gerry Fishman, Lisa Gibby, Chip Meegan and Bill Paciesas. Credit: NASA/MSFC
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Today, NASA opens the Gamma-ray Large Area Telescope (GLAST) Burst Monitor Instrument Operations Center, the focal point for observing gamma ray bursts, the most powerful explosions in the universe.

The GLAST Burst Monitor (GBM), a space-based instrument for studying gamma ray bursts, is one of two instruments on NASA's GLAST spacecraft. Together, the Large Area Telescope and the GBM will observe gamma rays ranging in energy from a few thousand electron volts to many hundreds of billions of electron volts or higher, the widest range of coverage ever available on a single spacecraft for gamma ray studies.

More energetic than X-rays, gamma rays are the highest-energy form of electromagnetic radiation. When a burst occurs, the GBM will detect gamma rays from the explosion and within seconds identify the location of the burst and transmit this information to scientists on the ground.

Located at the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) in Huntsville, Ala., operations personnel and scientists working in the GBM Instrument Operations Center will scrutinize the health of the monitor and enjoy a first-hand peek at ground-breaking new gamma ray science. The NSSTC is a partnership between NASA, the state of Alabama and several universities.

"While seeing the operations center come to life is a high point, the real triumph will come when we see the first data from GLAST in orbit," said the project's principal investigator, Charles “Chip” Meegan, an astrophysicist at Marshall. "Gamma ray bursts remain one of the greatest mysteries of astrophysics and we’re anxious to begin answering puzzling questions about how these fantastically powerful explosions are produced."

GBM Instrument Operations Center staff will continuously verify that the instrument is performing properly and prepare commands to fine-tune performance, as needed. GBM commands will be sent to the spacecraft through GLAST mission operations at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Goddard manages the GLAST mission for NASA.

"When GBM begins scanning the sky, we will be monitoring the instrument," said Lisa Gibby, Marshall’s operations center manager. "Many of us worked on a previous gamma ray instrument, BATSE which was on NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. We remember how exciting it was when new discoveries were made. We can’t wait to see what the data from GBM will tell us about the gamma ray universe."

Operations center scientists will examine data from gamma ray bursts and disseminate this information to the wider scientific community swiftly, allowing ground-based instruments to observe these bursts as soon as possible.

A complementary operations center is located at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, allowing scientists to look at real-time data during their normal work day, offset seven hours from Huntsville. Huntsville-based operations center staff will host regular meetings via teleconference to Germany to discuss data analysis and German colleagues will assist in operations and monitoring instrument performance.

Marshall has a long-standing relationship with scientists at the Max Planck Institute. NASA collaborated with the Institute through an agreement with the German Aerospace Center to design the GBM and the institute built the monitor's power supply and crystal detectors – the main component for intercepting gamma rays.

GLAST is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed 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 U.S.

GLAST is anticipated to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on May 16 at 11:45 a.m. EDT.