New gamma ray space telescope being developed in Siberia

The powerful equipment of the new telescope will help to answer questions related to deep space. Source: ITAR-TASS

The powerful equipment of the new telescope will help to answer questions related to deep space. Source: ITAR-TASS

The Tunka HiSCORE telescope, which is being built with German assistance, will be ten times more sensitive than its predecessor, detecting unique and smaller objects.

The rapid development of electronic optical technology in the world has made cosmic research possible not only using orbital and interplanetary devices, but also using ground-based telescopes.

In three years a unique complex, housing an international space gamma telescope that is designed for detecting high-energy particles, will be up and running in southeastern Siberia in Tunka Valley (Sayansk Mountains) at the Irkutsk University’s astrophysics labs.

“There isn’t another one in the world like it,” says Aleksandr Arguchintsev, rector of the university. “It will detect high-energy particles coming from the universe. In the Tunka Valley it will be possible to study particles with energies much higher than those in the famous Hadron Collider.” 

A gamma ray telescope is different from conventional telescopes in that it is a combination of optical equipment and equipment that detects charged particles that are formed as a result of the interaction between cosmic rays and the atmosphere. This gamma ray telescope will occupy about 100 square kilometers and its detectors will be located at 100-meter intervals.

An international team of Russian and German astrophysicists in the Tunka Valley are working with 175 sensitive light detectors located over about 3 square kilometers. Locating the detectors at these distances provides greater sensitivity when monitoring cosmic radiation compared with the traditional telescopes with similar characteristics. Over the next three years the world's largest array of optical detectors designed to study cosmic radiation will be built, and the number of light sensors will increase from 175 to 1000. The total area of the array will be 10 square kilometers.

The new gamma ray telescope - the Tunka HiSCORE - whose construction will be headed by German scientists and technicians from the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich, will be ten times more sensitive than its predecessor. It will make it possible for the first time to study unique objects such as pevatrons, which are powerful sources of gamma rays with a million billion times greater energy than visible light photons.

Germany is providing equipment for the telescope, at a total cost of 70 million Euros, as well as directing its construction. The main costs of the array will be covered by a grant that the Irkutsk scientists were awarded in April of this year.

This year the scientists plan on building a test installation consisting of 20 detectors. A telescope with an area of 1 square kilometer should be built by 2015.

“The advantages (of the telescope) for Russia are obvious,” Arguchintsev says. “Local scientists will not have to travel abroad to work on particle accelerators. Besides organizational difficulties, this will also allow our scientists to save time:  the wait time for scientists to work on an accelerator has stretched out to months, or even years.”

In the meantime this telescope is already the second such system in Siberia. There will be another ground-based installation, an optical laser system in the Altai German Titov Optical Laser Center in 2014. This high power telescope with a weight of 100 tonnes will be mounted at the top of a mountain at a height of 650 metres. It will track space objects with a speed of 3 angle degrees per second and an accuracy of about 2 angle seconds.

According to open sources, the Altai telescope will be able to detect small space objects and spy satellites, track objects in infrared light in the absence of sunlight, locate low-orbit objects without angle reflectors, and perform laser location of the Moon to determine the impact of the moon-earth system on the orbits of GLONASS satellites.

“An object the size of a matchbox will be visible at a distance of 200 km,” noted deputy chief engineer of Precision Instrument Systems scientific and production corporation Yevgeny Grishin. “In addition the system can detect a photometric signal from an object 2-3 cm in size at a distance of 36,000 km,” he said.

In addition to tracking existing man-made objects, the powerful equipment of the new telescope will help to answer questions related to deep space, as well as detect and determine the paths of space debris and meteoroids in the immediate vicinity of Russian space groups and the international space station. According to experts, the only equivalent to the telescope will be the American AEOS system in Hawaii. 

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