Neil Gehrels has been working with gamma-rays for a long time and has been instrumental in the development of new tools to explore this part of the electromagnetic spectrum. He is the Principal Investigator (PI) for the Swift Gamm-Ray Burst Explorer Mission that is currently in space. As you read through Neil’s story think about the questions listed below. Write out an answer or reflection for each section. Each section includes several webpages. Upload your answers to Moodle.
Growing Up with Stars – From Music to Physics
- 1. As you read about Neil’s life as a child, what did you feel about his exposure to astronomy? Did that exposure have a cost to it at all? Did Neil have an advantage or disadvantage? What do you think about his foray into music?
Watching the Detectors – Counting Photons with Well-Detectors
- 2. What kind of things caused problems for the early detectors?
- 3. Several different early instruments were talked about in these pages. Which one do you find interesting or surprising? Explain why. To learn more about the instruments, visit the sites below.
Imaging with CCD’s – Focusing with Optics
- 4. We have been using CCD images, and have even seen a CCD chip. A CZT is a CCD on steroids!! But they are still hard to use with gamma-rays. Getting the gamma-ray light to the CZT, or the detector plane, is tough. There is so much energy in a gamma-ray photon, it can go right through the mirrors we use to focus visible light. How does Neil and other gamma-ray astronomers get around this problem?
Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer Mission – How Swift Works
- 5. Neil explains why he thinks it is important to study GRBs. What do you think? Do you agree with him? GRBs are the most powerful things in the Universe. These explosions equal the energy of a billion billion (10^18) Suns!
- 6. How does Swift help with detecting and locating sources of gamma-ray bursts?
- 7. Swift has three instruments on it. Which one actually detects the gamma-ray light? What do the other two do? Why do you think they are even on the spacecraft? Look at the sites below to learn more about each instrument.
13 Billion Light Years and Counting…
- 8. As you read Neil’s last words, what are the big ideas he has left with you about gamma-ray astronomy?
If you want to hear Neil in person, listen to this audio clip of an interview with him.
When you are finished reading and reflecting on Neil’s story, upload your answers/thoughts to Moodle – Gamma-Ray Tools Reading Reflections