Fermi celebrates 10 years of discoveries

June 11, 2018
On June 11, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope celebrates a decade of using gamma rays, the highest energy form of light in the universe, to study black holes, neutron stars, and other extreme cosmic objects and events. MPE scientists use data from both instruments on-board Fermi, one of which was built jointly by MPE and other institutes.

This photograph shows the two instruments of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope a few days before launch. The Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) is in the lower part of the satellite, 7 of its 14 crystal detectors are visible on the front (wrapped in white). The GBM bus, wrapped in gold-coated foil, is mounted on the spacecraft on top of the Delta2 rocket. On the top, Fermi’s other instrument, the Large Area Telescope (LAT), is visible, wrapped in silver foil.

Fermi's secondary instrument, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), sees all of the sky at any instant, except the portion blocked by Earth. It was designed to detect transient gamma-ray bursts and sending this information immediately to an international network of observing sites for follow-up. The satellite has observed over 2,300 gamma-ray bursts, the most luminous events in the universe. Gamma-ray bursts occur when massive stars collapse or neutron stars merge and drive jets of particles at nearly the speed of light. In those jets, matter travels at different speeds and collides, emitting gamma rays.

On Aug. 17, 2017, Fermi detected a gamma-ray burst from a powerful explosion in the constellation Hydra. At almost the same time, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory detected ripples in space-time from the same event, the merger of two neutron stars. This was the first time light and gravitational waves were detected from the same event.

The GBM has also spotted over 5,000 terrestrial gamma-ray flashes in Earth’s atmosphere associated with thunderstorms, as well as hints that those flashes can produce antimatter.

The GBM, which works flawlessly, was built and tested in close collaboration between colleagues in the USA at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the Marshall Space Flight Center, German industry and the MPE, who is also responsible for the European side of the operation of the detector system and the analysis of the data.

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