Let there be light

Scientists will now be able to explore the Northern hemisphere’s universe with a much greater level of precision, thanks to a powerful new tool.

The Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) is a ground-based gamma-ray observatory designed to provide an in-depth examination of the cosmos.

Developed by a multi-national collaboration of groups from the UK, US, Ireland and Canada, the observatory is an array of four large optical reflectors that detects high-energy gamma rays by observing the light from secondary showers of particles that these rays generate in the atmosphere.

The US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory will provide input into the analysis of the data that the array produces over the next several years.

‘It is expected that this instrument will help detect an increased number of gamma ray sources — possibly even the indirect detection of the mysterious dark matter in the universe,’ said Argonne physicist Karen Byrum.

The telescopes are located at a temporary site in the Coronado National Forest in Mt Hopkins, Arizona, where they will be operated for two years in an engineering mode while a permanent site is acquired.

During this time, a number of key science projects will be undertaken, as well as collaborative observations with NASA’s next-generation gamma-ray space telescope, GLAST, scheduled for launch later this year.

The instrumentation of VERITAS has an energy threshold for gamma rays of about 100 gigaelectron Volt (GeV) and can identify sources with an intensity of about one photon/min with an observation lasting an hour. This is said to make it the most sensitive instrument in the northern hemisphere at these energies.

Argonne will also participate in three other key science projects — Dark Matter, Gamma Ray Burst and Blazar — and will assist in research and development for VERITAS upgrades and for the next-generation observatory, which is already being planned