Astronomy A1 How can we image gamma-rays?

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PHYS6009 Dissertations 2009/10


A1 How can we image gamma-rays?

Supervisor: Tony Bird

Gamma-rays (or photons above ~20 keV) will go straight through normal lenses and mirrors. So how can we manipulate high-energy photons so that images can be made of gamma-rays sources? This dissertation will study the techniques of using multi-layer mirrors that can reflect hard X-ray photons under certain conditions, and modulation imaging methods for imaging higher energy photons. These methods have been used, and continue to be proposed for use, in astronomical telescope systems, but could also be used in some terrestrial systems. The dissertation will look at various imaging methods and their potential applications.

A2 Imaging the high energy sky using our atmosphere
Supervisor: Tony Bird

The current generation of TeV telescopes such as HESS, VERITAS and MAGIC are producing exciting results, imaging the non-thermal sky with unprecedented quality. These telescopes use the atmosphere as a huge ‘detector’ - very high-energy photons interact with the Earth’s atmosphere to create an air shower – a shower of energetic photons and particles. Some of these particles will exceed the light speed in the local medium, and therefore produce Cerenkov light. At ground level, the pool of Cerenkov photons can be collected by one or more optical telescopes.
This dissertation will look at the physics of the air shower, how it is detected, and the implications of the latest results from the telescopes, which may finally answer the question of where the highest energy photons in our universe come from.

A3 Magnetic fields beyond the Milky Way

Supervisor: Judith Croston

Radio synchrotron emission from galaxies, active galactic nuclei (AGN), and clusters of galaxies tells us of the presence of extragalactic magnetic fields, and enables several techniques for determining the properties of magnetic fields in these extragalactic objects.

Next-generation radio instruments offer the prospect of moving from studies of individual objects to mapping the magnetic field structure of the Universe in detail. This dissertation will examine current methods for determining magnetic field strengths and structures from radio synchrotron emission, review current knowledge of magnetic fields in galaxies, radio-loud AGN and galaxy clusters, and discuss prospects for future progress with next-generation radio telescopes.

A4 The highest energy cosmic rays and their origins

Supervisor: Judith Croston

The majority of cosmic-ray particles that arrive at Earth from space are thought to be produced within the Milky Way, probably mainly in supernova explosions. However, the origins of the most energetic particles that we observe, some of which have nearly eight orders of magnitude more energy than the most energetic particles we can create in particle accelerators on Earth, remain something of a mystery. The fact that the particles are deflected by Galactic and intergalactic magnetic fields makes it difficult to establish their direction of origin, and because of their rarity, the detection of statistically useful numbers of ultra high-energy cosmic rays events requires very large detector areas. Over the last few years, the Pierre Auger Observatory has made exciting progress in measuring the properties of these particles and has mapped out their distribution on the sky for the first time. This dissertation will explore the implications of the latest results from the PAO and other projects on the composition and origins of ultra high-energy cosmic rays, and investigate the evidence for several proposed models for their source(s).
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