Saturday, January 19, 2019

CTA Prototype Telescope, the Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope, Inaugurated at Whipple Observatory in Arizona

This image illustrates all three classes of the 99 telescopes planned for the southern hemisphere as viewed from the centre of the array. Credit: Gabriel Pérez Diaz, IAC / Marc-André Besel, CTAO

On January 17, 2019, a prototype telescope proposed for the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), the prototype Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope (pSCT) is being unveiled in a special inauguration event at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory (FLWO) in Amado, Arizona. A dual-mirrored Medium-Sized Telescope, the SCT is proposed to cover the middle of CTA’s energy range (80 GeV – 50 TeV).

“The inauguration of the pSCT is an exciting moment for the institutions involved in its development and construction,” said CTA-US Consortium Chair David Williams, a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “The first of its kind in the history of gamma-ray telescopes, the SCT design is expected to boost CTA performance towards the theoretical limit of the technology.”

The SCT’s complex dual-mirror optical system improves on the single-mirror designs traditionally used in gamma-ray telescopes by dramatically enhancing the optical quality of their focused light over a large region of the sky and by enabling the use of compact, highly-efficient photo-sensors in the telescope camera.

“Ultimately, the SCT is designed to improve CTA’s ability to detect very-high-energy gamma-ray sources, which may also be sources of neutrinos and gravitational waves,” said Prof. Vladimir Vassiliev, Principal Investigator, pSCT. “Once the SCT technology is demonstrated at FLWO, it is hoped that SCTs will become a part of at least one of the two CTA arrays, located in each of the northern and southern hemispheres.”

The CTA Observatory (CTAO) will consist of 118 telescopes split between a southern array in Paranal, Chile and a northern array on the island of La Palma, Spain. Three classes of telescopes (Small-, Medium- and Large-Sized Telescopes) will be used to detect gamma rays in the energy range 20 GeV to 300 TeV with about ten times increased sensitivity compared to any current observatory. Notable for providing improved gamma-ray angular resolution and its very-high-resolution camera (>11,000 pixels), the SCT is proposed for the medium-sized CTA telescopes, which are considered to be the “workhorses” of the arrays with 15 planned for the north site and 25 for the south site.

“The SCT and other telescopes at CTA will greatly improve upon current gamma-ray research being conducted at HAWC, H.E.S.S., MAGIC and VERITAS, the last of which is located at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory,” said Dr. Wystan Benbow, Director, VERITAS. “Gamma-ray observatories like VERITAS have been operating for 12 to 16 years, and their many successes have brought very-high-energy gamma-ray astronomy into the mainstream, and have made many exciting discoveries. We hope CTA will supersede VERITAS around 2023, and it will be used to continue to build upon the 50 years of gamma-ray research at the Whipple Observatory and elsewhere.”

“I am very pleased to congratulate our colleagues that have conceived and realised such a promising prototype for the Medium-Sized Telescopes, a major component of the family of instruments that will characterise the CTA Observatory,” said Federico Ferrini, Managing Director of the CTAO.

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