Scientists in the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) consortium today announced at the 236th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) that they have detected gamma rays from the Crab Nebula using a prototype Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope (pSCT), proving the viability of the novel telescope design for use in gamma-ray astrophysics.
Detecting the Crab Nebula with the pSCT is more than just proof-positive for the telescope itself. It lays the groundwork for the future of gamma-ray astrophysics. The use of secondary mirrors in gamma-ray telescopes is a leap forward in innovation for the relatively young field of very-high-energy gamma-ray astronomy, which has moved rapidly to the forefront of astrophysics.
The initial pSCT Crab Nebula detection was made possible by leveraging key simultaneous observations with the co-located VERITAS (Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System) observatory. “We have successfully evolved the way gamma-ray astronomy has been done during the past 50 years, enabling studies to be performed in much less time,” said Wystan Benbow, Director, VERITAS. “Several future programs will particularly benefit, including surveys of the gamma-ray sky, studies of large objects like supernova remnants, and searches for multi-messenger counterparts to astrophysical neutrinos and gravitational wave events.”
Located at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Amado, Arizona—the largest field site of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian—the pSCT was inaugurated in January 2019 and saw first light the same week. After a year of commissioning work, scientists began observing the Crab Nebula in January 2020, but the project has been underway for more than a decade.
“We first proposed the idea of applying this optical system to TeV gamma-ray astronomy nearly 15 years ago, and my colleagues and I built a team in the US and internationally to prove that this technology could work,” said Prof. Vladimir Vassiliev, Principal Investigator, pSCT. “What was once a theoretical limit to this technology is now well within our grasp, and continued improvements to the technology and the electronics will further increase our capability to detect gamma rays at resolutions and rates we once only ever dreamed of.”
Source: “Scientists Detect Crab Nebula Using Innovative Gamma-Ray Telescope, Proving Technology Viability” CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS | HARVARD & SMITHSONIAN, 1 June 2020. <https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2020-11>