Space flight for the POLAR detector

Designed at PSI, canton Aargau, the POLAR detector will fly into outer space with a Chinese space mission.
Wojciech Hajdas
With POLAR, Wojciech Hajdas and his colleagues want to measure the polarisation of gamma ray bursts in space. (Photo: Paul Scherrer Institute/Markus Fischer)

Working with Wojciech Hajdas at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI in Villigen, canton Aargau, researchers have developed a detector they call POLAR. This instrument is designed to trace and study so-called gamma ray bursts emanating from the depths of the universe. Gamma ray bursts are extremely strong eruptions of high-energy light that have remained poorly understood until now, however.

Among other things, the origin of gamma ray bursts has not been resolved; these strong flashes of light are possibly emitted during the formation of black holes. To better understand gamma ray bursts, POLAR will measure a property of their light.

POLAR was developed in cooperation with researchers at the University of Geneva and will be launched into space next September with a Chinese space mission. POLAR cannot simply detect gamma ray bursts from the Earth: the air in the Earth’s atmosphere prevents accurate measurements. Hajdas thus looked for contacts with various space missions. The Chinese IHEP-CAS institute proved to be the most open to collaboration. Now there is no doubt: in September 2016, POLAR will fly into terrestrial orbit on board Tiangong 2 and collect measurement data from there. POLAR is currently being installed on the Tiangong 2 space station.

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