Astrophysicists from the University of Bath are part of an international team of scientists helping contribute to the design and directing the science of the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), a group of telescopes that will detect gamma-rays from supernova explosions, pulsars and supermassive black holes.

The CTA will be across two sites, consisting of a 19 telescope array in the northern hemisphere in the Canary Islands, and a second array of 99 telescopes in the southern hemisphere near ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.

The CTA will detect gamma rays - very high-energy electromagnetic radiation emitted by the hottest and most powerful objects in the Universe - such as supermassive black holes, supernovae and possibly remnants of the Big Bang.

Once built, the CTA will be the largest and most sensitive array of gamma-ray telescopes in the world, with unprecedented accuracy and 10 times more sensitive than existing instruments.

Although the Earth’s atmosphere prevents gamma rays from reaching the surface, CTA’s mirrors and high-speed cameras will capture the short-lived flashes of eerie blue Cherenkov radiation produced when gamma rays interact with the atmosphere. Detection of this Cherenkov light will allow the gamma ray to be traced back to its cosmic source.

The scientific scope of CTA is extensive: from understanding the role of relativistic cosmic particles to the search for dark matter. CTA will explore the extreme Universe, probing environments from the immediate neighbourhood of black holes to cosmic voids on the largest scales.

The Astrophysics team at Bath is part of a scientific consortium of more than 200 institutions from 31 countries that are engaged in the scientific and technical development of the CTA.

The team, led by Head of Astrophysics Professor Carole Mundell, includes Dr Patricia Schady, Dr Hendrik van Eerten, Dr David Tsang, Dr Carolin Villforth, Dr Stijn Wuyts and Dr Victoria Scowcroft. Their combined expertise will help interpret the data collected from the CTA, and but also enable advanced numerical simulations to predict what may be observed.

Professor Mundell said: “The CTA will open a new window on the Universe allowing us to test the laws of physics in the most extreme environment, the physics of particle acceleration to speeds far in excess of those achievable in earth-based labs such as the Large Hadron Collider, and to search for new exotic particles.”

The construction of the second site is expected to start in 2020, with the site becoming fully operational by 2025.