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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » February 23, 2012
Space Research
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New Detector for Gamma-Ray Burst Hunters
February 23, 2012   
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Researchers carrying out a project entitled “Observation of Astrophysical Processes in Powerful Gravitational Fields at a High Temporal Resolution and Different Polarity and Spectral Ranges” have obtained a grant of zl.612,000 from the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education as part of the Ideas Plus program.

The grant application was submitted by the Andrzej Sołtan Institute for Nuclear Studies on behalf of the Pi of the Sky research team. The applicants also include scientists from the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Physics, the Center for Theoretical Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN), and the Space Research Center of PAN. The project manager is Prof. Lech Mankiewicz from the Center for Theoretical Physics.

The project focuses on observing early optical emissions associated with cosmic processes and phenomena that occur in powerful gravitational fields. One example are gamma-ray bursts (GRB) which scientists search for using a network of telescopes mounted in satellites and on Earth. So far a lot of gamma-ray bursts have been observed along with their afterglows in different spectral ranges, but optical radiation has been measured simultaneously with gamma rays at a high temporal resolution for just one, very bright burst recorded March 19, 2009, as GRB080319B. That observation involved the prototype Pi of the Sky detector located in Chile.

Another Polish robotic telescope, built by the researchers conducting the grant-winning project, has been recently activated at the INTA observatory on the Spanish coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Detectors at the two observatories have a temporal resolution of around 10 seconds, or 0.1 Hz, but after firmware modification, the resolution can improve to 1 second, or 1 Hz. Passing the 1 Hz mark will require brand-new equipment and will be made possible with the know-how which the Pi of the Sky team have gathered while building and utilizing the robotic telescopes.

The detector built as part of the project will lead to a breakthrough in observations of optical phenomena in space. In the course of the project, a new robotic telescope will be programmed, activated, calibrated and fitted with optical devices and cameras to enable observation of bright bursts at temporal resolutions far exceeding one second, in different spectral ranges and kinds of polarity. The telescope will be incorporated into an array of telescopes which watch gamma-ray bursts and will work with detectors of gravitational waves. Once the new detector enters operation, the applicants are expecting to observe several early optical emissions associated with gamma-ray bursts. Depending on the detection threshold of the gravity detectors, it may also register optical emissions from sources of gravitational waves.
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