Portugal joins the construction of a gamma-ray observatory

Portugal and eight other countries are joining as of today in an international collaboration to build a gamma-ray observatory in the Andes to look for signs of dark matter in the center of the Milky Way, was announced today.

The announcement was made in a statement by the Laboratory of Instrumentation and Experimental Physics of Particles (LIP), which represents the Portuguese participation.

In addition to the LIP, 37 research institutes from Germany, Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Italy, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic are involved.

To be completed, it will be the first gamma-ray observatory in the southern hemisphere. There is already one of its kind, but in the northern hemisphere, in Mexico.

LIP president Mário Pimenta said that the infrastructure project will be completed in 2022 so the consortium can advance with funding applications for the work, which will take five years.

Mário Pimenta estimates the observatory’s cost of at least 50 million euros, which will include several water tanks placed at an altitude of more than 4,400 meters to detect high-energy particles through their interaction with water.

The LIP president expects that the South African gamma-ray observatory (SWGO) will be able to operate in eight to ten years.

SWGO will serve to detect higher energy gamma rays, “light particles billions of times more energetic than visible light,” allowing physicists to discover the origin of high energy cosmic rays and to look for dark matter particles and deviations from Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, the LIP statement said.

According to the Laboratory of Instrumentation and Experimental Physics of Particles, SWGO’s “broad field of view makes it ideal” to look for gamma-ray emissions “from vast regions of the sky, such as the so-called Fermi bubbles”, structures of comparable dimensions to the Milky Way and “rich in dark matter,” as well as “unexpected phenomena,” such as the fusion of two neutron stars, which gives rise to a black hole (a region where even light escapes).

The LIP highlights that the SWGO location in the southern hemisphere will allow “direct observation of the most interesting region of the Milky Way”, its center, which has a black hole four million times “heavier” than the Sun.

SWGO is based on experiments with the observatory in Mexico, the HAWC, which detects high-altitude “particle showers produced by the primary gamma rays that reach the atmosphere,” but will also explore “new technologies to increase sensitivity and lower the detector’s power threshold. ”

Highlighting the importance of SWGO, LIP notes that the study of very high-energy gamma-ray emissions, which can last for seconds or days, requires the continuous observation of “large portions of the sky, sensitive to the energies above satellite and joint work with other observatories, photons, neutrinos and gravitational waves.

The Laboratory of Instrumentation and Experimental Physics of Particles recalls that the direct detection of the primary gamma rays can only be done with space telescopes, such as Fermi, but the technology used is more expensive, limiting the size of the sensors and their sensitivity.

Ground-based telescopes such as those at Cherenkov also allow high-energy gamma rays to be detected, but, unlike the proposed SWGO observatory, they have “limited observation times and field of view”, although “very accurate”. One of these telescopes is installed on the Spanish island of La Palma, Canary Islands.

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