China has successfully launched a space telescope to study some of the most energetic events in the universe. Lifting off today from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 4.14 a.m. local time, the Gravitational wave high-energy Electromagnetic Counterpart All-sky Monitor (GECAM) represents one of the first new “all-sky” devices that will monitor fast-radio bursts, high-energy neutrinos and magnetars. The craft is set to begin operations as soon as it enters orbit, doing so for three years.
We’re really excited to see GECAM fly on time, as we overcame numerous technical difficulties and made it through the pandemic
To study these events, GECAM consists of two satellites – each weighing 160 kg – that will orbit on opposite sides of the Earth at an altitude of about 600 km. Each GECAM satellite features a dome-shaped array of 25 gamma-ray detectors and eight charged particle detectors.
They will search for cosmic events happening in the energy range of 6 keV – 5 MeV and, within a couple of minutes of detection, GECAM will send out alerts to telescopes around the world for follow-up observations.
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The idea of GECAM emerged following the announcement in February 2016 of the first detection of gravitational waves by the US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
A year later and LIGO, working together with the VIRGO gravitational-wave detector in Italy, spotted the first gravitational wave produced by the merger of two neutron stars – an observation that was followed up by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and other observatories around the world, kick-starting the era of multimessenger astronomy. Likewise, GECAM spot the gamma-rays bursts that are related to the production of gravitational waves by such comic mergers.
“We’re really excited to see GECAM fly on time, as we overcame numerous technical difficulties and made it through the pandemic,” says GECAM’s principle investigator Shaolin Xiong from the Institute of High Energy Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing.
GECAM is the first of a line-up of space science missions to be launched by China in the coming five years. Other missions include the Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory, the Einstein Probe as well as the Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer – a joint mission between CAS and the European Space Agency.