NASA Names Telescope After Chicago Scientist

“This satellite will collect gamma rays from the most energetic regions of our galaxy and beyond,” said Simon Swordy, Director of the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute. “Working in the Research Institutes building on Ellis Avenue in the late 1940s, Enrico Fermi produced the first quantitative ideas on how cosmic particles could reach the enormous energies needed to produce these cosmic-gamma rays. It is wonderful to hear that NASA has decided to dedicate this satellite to him.”

NASA launched the telescope on a Delta II rocket on June 11. The telescope’s mission is to collect data on black holes, gamma-ray bursts—the most powerful explosions in the universe—and other cosmic phenomena produced at extreme energies.

Fermi received the Nobel Prize in 1938 for his discovery of new radioactive elements produced by the addition of neutrons to the cores of atoms, and for the discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slowly moving neutrons.

A member of the Chicago faculty from 1946 until his death in 1954, Fermi conducted pioneering research on the most powerful subatomic particle accelerator of its day. As a member of the Manhattan Project during World War II, he oversaw construction of the first nuclear reactor.

The Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma-ray Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory preceded the Fermi Telescope.

The Hubble Telescope, launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1990, is named for Edwin Hubble, who earned his bachelor’s degree at the University in 1910 and his doctorate in 1917. Hubble showed that other galaxies existed in the universe, and that the universe is expanding. These findings form the cornerstone of the big bang theory of the universe’s origin and opened the field of cosmology.

The Compton Gamma-ray Observatory, launched aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in 1991, is named for Arthur Holly Compton, who served on the University of Chicago faculty from 1923 to 1945. Compton earned the 1927 Nobel Prize in physics for his scattering experiment, which demonstrated that light has characteristics of both a wave and a particle. NASA deorbited the Compton Observatory in June 2000.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory, launched aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1999, is named for pioneering University of Chicago astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Chandrasekhar received the 1983 Nobel Prize in physics for his studies on the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars. He served on the Chicago faculty from 1937 until his death in 1995 at the age of 84. His major discoveries across the field of astrophysics spanned more than 60 years.

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