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Cosmic gamma radiation from the active galactic nucleus Markarian-421, recorded by the new H.E.S.S. cameras. Credit: H.E.S.S.
The newly refurbished cameras of the H.E.S.S. gamma-ray telescopes in Namibia have detected their first signals from a cosmic particle accelerator: The new cameras recorded Markarian 421 as their first target, a well-known blazar in the constellation of Ursa Major. The active galactic nucleus, 400 million light years away, was detected during an active state and at high significance. After four years of development, testing, production and deployment, this is the last big milestone of the H.E.S.S. I camera upgrade project, which was led by DESY. The success is also an important test for the next generation gamma-ray observatory, the Cherenkov Telescope Array CTA, which will use the same camera technology.
HESS - Mysteries - Sky - Universe - Atmosphere
When H.E.S.S. explores the mysteries of the high-energy sky, it actually does not look into the Universe, but at the upper atmosphere. Cosmic gamma-rays are absorbed there and produce short, faint, violet Cherenkov light flashes that can be detected from the ground using large mirrors and ultra-fast electronics. The exposure times per image are as short as 16 nanoseconds (billionths of a second), and H.E.S.S. is recording about 300 of such events per second. Since some images only consist of a few handfuls of light particles (photons), the technical requirements to build such cameras are very challenging.
In the ten years for which the original H.E.S.S. I cameras have been operated, their fragile electronic components have suffered a natural level of ageing, which degraded their performance. In parallel, also the technologies available on the market have developed much further, like faster Ethernet solutions, and smaller and faster readout chips. One of these chips is the NECTAr chip, which has been developed for the next big experiment in the field, CTA. Therefore, in 2012 the H.E.S.S....
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