Astroparticle physics

Messengers from outer space

In astroparticle physics, DESY researchers are investigating high-energy processes in the universe. Using spectacular detectors and telescopes, the experts analyse neutrinos and gamma rays that come from far corners of the cosmos and can provide information about fascinating phenomena, such as black holes, exploding stars and radiation outbursts of unconceivable intensity.

DESY has extensive experience and competence in experimental gamma-ray and neutrino astronomy as well as in theoretical astroparticle physics. The astroparticle physics division at DESY bundles this expertise and contributes significantly to the development of this growing research field. The DESY location in Zeuthen is being expanded into a centre and hub for worldwide astroparticle physics.

High-energy radiation

One of DESY’s major fields of activities in astroparticle physics is gamma-ray astronomy. The research centre is involved in the gamma telescopes MAGIC on the Canary Island of La Palma, H.E.S.S. in Namibia and VERITAS in the USA, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the planned Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA). DESY research at the existing gamma telescopes ranges from the observation and analysis of various cosmic gamma-ray sources to studies of the intergalactic magnetic field and investigations of nuclear physics models. These experimental activities are supported by theoretical studies, e.g. on the shock acceleration of particles.

The gamma observatory of the future

The next-generation observatory CTA is DESY’s largest project in the field of gamma-ray astronomy. CTA will make it possible to investigate the origin and role of relativistic cosmic particles with significantly improved sensitivity, to study extreme astrophysical environments and to explore the frontiers in physics. The CTA Science Data Management Centre will be located on the DESY campus in Zeuthen. DESY is also a key partner in the development, construction and operation of major components both in the construction phase and in future upgrades of the observatory.

Searching for ghost particles

The second focus of DESY’s experimental activities in astroparticle physics is neutrino physics. DESY is strongly involved in the IceCube observatory at the South Pole. Spanning an ice volume of one cubic kilometre, the detector registers high-energy neutrinos when they react with the ice. Since neutrinos interact only very rarely with other particles, they reach the Earth on a straight path, thus providing information from regions of the universe that would otherwise be inaccessible to astronomers, e.g. from the interior of the Sun or from stellar explosions. As a leading institute in the IceCube collaboration, DESY is driving the design, development and expansion of IceCube.

Combined messages from space

DESY particularly supports the establishment of a global multimessenger follow-up programme that combines information from various messengers from space, such as electromagnetic radiation, neutrinos and gravitational waves. Each messenger provides different information – only their combination will create an overall picture. For instance, the cooperation of neutrino, gamma-ray and optical observatories makes it possible to identify and study the common sources of cosmic rays and neutrinos at the highest energies.

Another important element is theoretical astroparticle physics, which strives to interpret the data of the various messengers, describe their connections and develop comprehensive multimessenger models.