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Equipping Chinese Space Station
July 29, 2011   
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Polish researchers at the Institute for Nuclear Studies (IPJ) in 安ierk near Warsaw are working to develop equipment that will be launched into space on board Chinese space station TG2 in late 2013 or early 2014.

The mission will be a part of an international project called POLAR that aims to build a satellite polarimeter—a device for measuring the polarization of electromagnetic radiation from cosmic ray bursts.

Working to build the device are European and Chinese scientists, including researchers from institutions such as the University of Geneva, the Paul Sherrer Institute in Villigen (PSI), the Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing (IHEP), the Laboratory for Particle Physics in Annecy (LAPP), and—for the last four years—Polish researchers from the institute in 安ierk. The Polish group is preparing a set of scintillation gamma radiation detectors.

The Chinese and European scientists discussed the technical aspects of the project at a meeting in January in Beijing.

Tadeusz Batsch, head of the Astrophysical Equipment Laboratory at the IPJ, says, “We have already built more than 150 detector modules. Ultimately, we expect to build about 2,000 such segments. We are also responsible for the preparation of onboard software and for the design of some of the electronic circuits.”

Electromagnetic radiation, which means radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays, is characterized by properties such as energy and intensity. A less well known value determining the properties of an electromagnetic wave is its polarization.

“Many physical phenomena cause the emission of polarized light, which is used, for example, in three-dimensional cinema and LCD displays,” says Rados豉w Marcinkowski from the Astrophysical Equipment Laboratory at the Institute for Nuclear Studies in 安ierk, who came up with the idea of Polish scientists joining the POLAR project.

An insight into the polarization of radiation emitted during violent processes taking place in the cosmos could enable scientists to better understand their course. In recent years, the phenomenon of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) has been of particular interest to astrophysicists. Scientists have long suspected that the gamma rays emitted during GRBs may be polarized. A thorough investigation of this phenomenon could help put an end to many discussions.

“Gamma rays from the cosmos do not reach the Earth’s surface, and therefore instruments intended for such measurements must be placed in outer space,” says Marcinkowski.

According to the institute’s Dominik Rybka, even on Earth detection systems that measure the polarization of radiation are very complicated. “We have not yet managed to put in space an efficient device for measuring the polarization of gamma radiation. POLAR will be the first such instrument,” Rybka says.
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