Glowbug: A Technology Demonstration for Multi-messenger Astrophysics

Glowbug: A Technology Demonstration for Multi-messenger Astrophysics

Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientists at the Science and Technology Institute (STI) in Huntsville, Alabama, are developing, testing, and running the science operations center for Glowbug, a gamma-ray burst (GRB) detector slated for delivery to the International Space Station in 2023.

Glowbug will herald in the era of multi-messenger astronomy. It will also demonstrate new technology that reduces the mass and volume requirements for traditional GRB detectors so that they can be placed on CubeSats and SmallSats.

Researchers at STI are studying gravitational waves, neutrinos, and cosmic rays along with the traditional electromagnetic waves to gain a deeper understanding of the cosmos. These multi-messenger signals are generated by the relativistic jets produced in cataclysmic explosions – neutron-star mergers, massive-star core collapse, or magnetar plasma release. These events are first detected by GRB monitors, which can then issue an alert to multi-messenger observatories around the world. This network of these observatories includes the US-led LIGO, European-led Virgo, and Japanese-led KAGRA, which detect gravitational waves, and the IceCube neutrino detector in Antarctica.

The new technology effort that reduces the mass and volume requirements for traditional GRB detectors so they can used on CubeSats and SmallSats is led by Principal Investigator Eric Grove at the Naval Research Laboratories with support by USRA and Marshall Space Flight Center. The Glowbug design comprises 12 large Cesium Iodide scintillation crystals, each coupled to a Silicon Photomultiplier (SiPM). The SiPM technology allows the mass and volume of the combined detector to be reduced compared to the more traditional Photomultiplier Tubes. The 12 Glowbug detectors will observe the sky in the energy range of 30 keV to 2 MeV and are oriented to observe the full sky.

USRA STI scientists, Adam Goldstein, Corinne Fletcher, and Oliver Roberts, along with computer engineer, William “Bill” Cleveland, are developing software that will process and deliver the rapid alerts to the community and writing the tools that will calibrate and analyze the Glowbug data. The STI team leverages over 40 years of combined experience operating gamma-ray instruments, analyzing their data, and collaborating with the broader multi-wavelength and multi-messenger astrophysics community.