The world’s most sensitive Gamma Ray telescopes are being inaugurated in Namibia (in Southwest Africa) on September 3rd. The High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.), a European/African collaboration in which the UK is a partner, will look for Gamma Rays produced by the most energetic particles in the Universe. The array initially consists of four telescopes, the first of which will become operational next week. This one telescope alone is more sensitive than any other existing ground-based array or telescope working in this particular area of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Once all four telescopes are operational in late 2003, researchers from the University of Durham will use H.E.S.S. to investigate a range of extreme cosmic environments such as the supernova remnants formed when a star dies. A major goal is to see if these are a source of cosmic rays - charged particles that constantly bombard the Earth from space. The origin of cosmic rays is difficult to determine as they are influenced by the magnetic field of our Galaxy. However, the Gamma Rays they emit travel in a straight line, so they may reveal the primary source of the cosmic rays. H.E.S.S. will also be probing the structure of pulsars (rapidly rotating stars formed when a massive star explodes at the end of its life, which emit pulses across the range of the electromagnetic spectrum) and active galactic nuclei to find the source of their energy.
Dr Paula Chadwick, of the Durham team, explains: "H.E.S.S. is set to give us unique insights into some of the most extreme environments in the universe. We have some expectations about what we will be able learn more about - supernova remnants, active galaxies and so on - but experience tells us that when you improve the sensitivity of your telescope, you see things you never expected as well. It`s going to be very exciting!"
Julia Maddock | alfa
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