Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 6, 1997

In Brief

NEAR gets surprise view of gamma-ray blast

A significant step toward revealing the mysteries of gamma-ray bursts was taken this week by the Applied Physics Laboratory when NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft sent back unexpected data showing a major event. APL manages the NEAR mission for NASA.

The observation came after researchers reconfigured the gamma-ray spectrometer to make more frequent data returns as NEAR travels to a rendezvous with the asteroid Eros in February 1999. If they are as distant as new evidence suggests, gamma-ray bursts are the most violent explosions known, emitting in one second as much energy as the sun will emit in its lifetime.

The gamma-ray spectrometer was not originally planned to begin its work until the spacecraft reached Eros. But while en route a simple software change was added that gave a new astrophysics capability to this planetary spectrometer, which resulted in detection of a gamma-ray burst on Sept. 15, that lasted for about 10 seconds. Since then six more bursts have been detected. Several of the bursts have been confirmed by the European Space Agency/NASA Ulysses spacecraft, now in a polar orbit around the sun and by two detectors on NASA's Wind spacecraft near the Earth. These three spacecraft, along with other Earth-orbiting spacecraft, form a 3-dimensional interplanetary network for observing gamma-ray bursts that has not been possible since the loss of the Mars Observer in 1993.

"Seeing this burst validates that the NEAR detector can be a true working partner in the interplanetary network for gamma-ray burst detection," says APL's lead gamma-ray instrument engineer John Goldsten, who was the first to see the gamma-ray burst data.

Gamma-ray bursts remain one of the great mysteries of astrophysics since their discovery more than 30 years ago. They tend to be randomly distributed over the sky and occur with a frequency of about one per day for the most sensitive detectors. If they are of cosmological origin, they represent the most powerful events that are known in the universe.

The debate as to their local or cosmological origin will most likely be resolved by locating sources of gamma-ray bursts and then identifying them with optical and radio telescopes. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope made the first observation of a fuzzy object associated with a burst that was detected last Feb. 28 by the Italian BeppoSAX satellite.
--Helen Worth, APL

SAIS hosts careers conference in D.C.

The career services department at the School of Advanced International Studies hosted a week of panel presentations from Sept. 22 to 26.

Dean Paul Wolfowitz launched "Washington '97_International Careers in the Nation's Capital" on Sept. 18 by chairing a discussion with SAIS alumni now working in the private sector: Nancy Birdsall, executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank; Anne Luzatto, deputy assistant to the president and deputy White House press secretary for foreign affairs; and Ronald Palmer, former ambassador to Togo, Malaysia and Mauritius and currently professor at the Elliott School at George Washington University.

Dean Wolfowitz--a former ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia and undersecretary of defense for policy during the Bush administration_reflected on the rewards of a public service career. During the ensuing week, SAIS played host to prominent professionals in public and nonprofit international affairs. The week ended with a U.S. Government Career Fair.
--Rodney Coggin, SAIS

Researcher to plead guilty in fraud case

A discharged Homewood-based research scientist has entered into a plea agreement with the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City, wherein the researcher will plead guilty to a felony theft by continuing scheme and pay restitution to the university in the amount of $88,332. In exchange for the guilty plea, the state will recommend a sentence of six years suspended.

The internal audit of this former employee's work area determined that numerous checks payable to the university were stolen, altered and deposited into a personal checking account. Because the employee confessed to these crimes upon being confronted and otherwise cooperated with internal and State's Attorney investigations, the university did not object to a suspended sentence.

It is vital to safeguard the university's assets. Faculty, staff and students who suspect financial and other improprieties are urged to report them to the Office of Audits and Management Services, at 410-516-6391.

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