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High Energy Astrophysics

High energy Astrophysics studies the most energetic phenomena in the Cosmos. This field of research lays at the boundary between Particle Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology. In the last 30 years High Energy Astrophysics had an outstanding development with the observation of Ultra High Energy Cosmic Rays and the birth of X-ray and gamma ray astronomy.  

The Gran Sasso Center for Astroparticle Physics (CFA) is deeply involved in both experimental and theoretical studies in High Energy Astrophysics promoting networking and collaborations among scientists. Through its three joint institutes: Gran Sasso National Laboratory, Physics Department of Rome Tor Vergata University and Physics Department of L'Aquila University, the CFA is involved in the main world leading experiments in the field of High Energy Astrophysics, in the following we will briefly describe some of these activities. 

The Pierre Auger Observatory, whose collaboration includes groups of the three CFA joint institutes, studies Ultra High energy Cosmic Rays (UHECR) the most energetic and rarest particles known in Nature. When these particles arrive to the earth atmosphere, interacting with the atmosphere nuclei, produce extensive air showers made of billions of secondary particles. The experimental devices of the Pierre Auger Observatory are able to detect such secondary particles determining the nature of the ultra-high-energy primary particle. While much progress has been made in nearly a century of research in understanding cosmic rays with low and moderate energies, those with ultra-high energies remain a mystery. Particularly important is the possibility of determining the acceleration sites of UHECR, this discovery will open a new field of research, namely Particle Astronomy, unveiling the nature of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe such as super-powerful cosmic explosions, huge black holes attracting stars to their violent death, collisions of galaxies, etc. 

The Space Mission Pamela, participated by the Physics Department and INFN of Rome Tor Vergata University, is focused on the study of cosmic radiation addressing several fundamental open questions of Astrophysics and Cosmology. In particular, through the detection of anti-particles Pamela could contribute to an indirect detection of Dark Matter, to the understanding of the absence of cosmological antimatter in the Universe, to the understanding of the origin and evolution of matter in our own galaxy. Pamela is a powerful particle identifier that uses a permanent magnet spectrometer with a variety of specialized detectors, is an instrument of extraordinary scientific potential that is measuring with unprecedented precision and sensitivity the abundance and energy spectra of cosmic rays electrons, positrons, antiprotons and light nuclei over a very large range of energy from 50 MeV to hundreds GeV, depending on the species. 

The Fermi mission, participated by the Physics Department and INFN of Rome Tor Vergata University, is devoted to the study of gamma radiation, a radiation billions of times more energetic than the type of light visible to our eyes. The detection of gamma radiation is of paramount importance in the study of several exotic phenomena in the Universe, some of which can generate almost inconceivable amount of energy. In particular, super-massive black holes, merging neutron stars, streams of hot gas moving close to the speed of light and many others are all phenomena that imply an emission of gamma radiation. What is happening to produce these emissions? What happens to the surrounding environment near these phenomena? How will studying these energetic objects add to our understanding of the very nature of the Universe and how it behaves? The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, formerly GLAST, opened this high-energy world to exploration and will help us to answer these fundamental questions.

 


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