Senses 3 - Seeing across the galaxy
How can you spot what's happening in space billions of light years away from right here on Earth?
Dr Garret Cotter works in the boundary of astronomy and high energy particle physics: gamma-ray astronomy. Researchers use the Earth's atmosphere like a giant high energy particle detector to record particles that have travelled across space and reached Earth; not too dissimilar to the LHC, but thousands of times more energetic. By looking for tell-tale 'flashes' in the sky, researchers can actually build up a picture of what's happening at black holes and supernovae across the galaxy and in intergalactic space - not only to give an insight into fundamental particle physics, but also learning about black hole physics, supernovae and galaxy formation. Garret explains the challenges of capturing these extremely short lived events and what we can learn from it.
Below is what one of these 'flashes' looks like when it's picked up by gamma-ray telescopes:
Garret says, "The animation is slowed down by about a factor of 200,000,000 so if you imagine that as some sort of “real time” for the electronics, then a typical observing night, lasting ten hours, would be the equivalent of about 230,000 years. So one way of looking at the electronics is to think that they are not just very fast, but also incredibly patient!"
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