The Italian Almanac
Catching the Neutron Rays
An Italian satellite has started catching the rays that neutron stars and supernovae emit when they explode. Experts said the AGILE satellite was "working perfectly" after it picked up its first gamma-photon particle, the 'echo' of a huge, far-off cosmic blast. "These first results confirm the importance of the two-year mission and the key role of our scientists in high-energy astrophysics," the Italian Space Agency (ASI) said.
AGILE (Astrorivelatore Gamma a Immagine Leggero, or Lightweight Gamma Image Detector) is the first satellite in over a decade made entirely in Italy. ASI believes AGILE will "permit huge steps forward in the field" by enabling, for the first time, the simultaneous analysis of X-rays and gamma rays. "Mapping the sources of these rays will enable us to get important information on black holes, neutron stars, supernovae, active galaxies and future galactic phenomenena," ASI said.
National Astrophysics Institute chief Sergio De Julio called the first data "an excellent result for Italy". National Nuclear Physics Institute President Roberto Petronzio said AGILE's success boded well for Italy's next major project, the GLAST satellite, which will blast off in February with 16 detection systems similar to AGILE's. The data picked up by AGILE is being received by a space station at Malindi, Kenya and beamed back to ASI's lab at Frascati outside Rome.
When it lifted off last month AGILE was the first European satellite to be launched from India - from the Shriharikota base near Madras. Over the next two years AGILE will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor SAX, which for the first time mapped the full range of X-rays in the universe.