Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Antimatter-Hunting Experiment Ready for Space Mission

A cutting-edge experiment hunting for antimatter galaxies and signs of dark matter that was very nearly cancelled is finally poised to voyage into orbit aboard the next-to-last space shuttle mission. The ambitious Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is a more than 6,900-kilogram device searching for cosmic- rays — high-energy charged particles from outer space. The nearly $2 billion experiment will ridehttp://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=38297919 up to the International Space Station on the shuttle Endeavour on Friday

The instrument will employ a nearly 1,900 kg permanent magnet to generate a strong, uniform magnetic field more than 3,000 times more intense than Earth's. This deflects cosmic rays so that a battery of detectors can analyze their properties, such as charge and velocity, and beam their findings to Earth. But while the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer promises big discoveries for the field of astrophysics, just getting the instrument on the launch pad has been a challenge.

After the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident, NASA initially cancelled the mission that would deliver the spectrometer to the space station. The mission was reinstated after substantial lobbying from lawmakers and scientists. Last year, engineers replaced the big magnet on the spectrometer with a longer-lasting one to get more science out of the instrument through 2020, the expected end life of the space station.

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