NASA’s Fermi Celebrates Five Years In Space

By  //  August 22, 2013

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Fermit to enter extended phase of its mission

ABOVE VIDEO: From blazars to thunderstorms, this video showcases highlights from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope’s first five years in space.

NASA.gov – During its five-year primary mission, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has given astronomers an increasingly detailed portrait of the universe’s most extraordinary phenomena, from giant black holes in the hearts of distant galaxies to thunderstorms on Earth.

Fermi’s portrait of the sky at energies beyond 1 GeV has steadily deepened with more data. This animation compares views of a 20-degree-wide region in the constellation Virgo after the LAT’s first and fifth year of operations. Many additional strong sources (yellow, red) appear in the latest image. (NASA.gov image)

But its job is not done yet. On Aug. 11, Fermi entered an extended phase of its mission — a deeper study of the high-energy cosmos. This is a significant step toward the science team’s planned goal of a decade of observations, ending in 2018.

“As Fermi opens its second act, both the spacecraft and its instruments remain in top-notch condition and the mission is delivering outstanding science,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division in Washington.

Fermi has revolutionized our view of the universe in gamma rays, the most energetic form of light. The observatory’s findings include new insights into many high-energy processes, from rapidly rotating neutron stars, also known as pulsars, within our own galaxy, to jets powered by supermassive black holes in far-away young galaxies.

This view shows the entire sky at energies greater than 1 GeV based on five years of data from the LAT instrument on NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. (NASA.gov image)

This view shows the entire sky at energies greater than 1 GeV based on five years of data from the LAT instrument on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. (NASA.gov image)

The Large Area Telescope (LAT), the mission’s main instrument, scans the entire sky every three hours. The state-of-the-art detector has sharper vision, a wider field of view, and covers a broader energy range than any similar instrument previously flown.

“As the LAT builds up an increasingly detailed picture of the gamma-ray sky, it simultaneously reveals how dynamic the universe is at these energies,” said Peter Michelson, the instrument’s principal investigator and a professor of physics at Stanford University in California.

Peter Michelson

Peter Michelson

Fermi’s secondary instrument, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), sees all of the sky at any instant, except the portion blocked by Earth. This all-sky coverage lets Fermi detect more gamma-ray bursts, and over a broader energy range, than any other mission. These explosions, the most powerful in the universe, are thought to accompany the birth of new stellar-mass black holes.

“Over the next few years, major new astronomical facilities exploring other wavelengths will complement Fermi and give us our best look yet into the most powerful events in the universe,” said Julie McEnery

“Over the next few years, major new astronomical facilities exploring other wavelengths will complement Fermi and give us our best look yet into the most powerful events in the universe,” said Julie McEnery, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership. Goddard manages the mission. The telescope was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, with contributions from academic institutions and partners in the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.

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