High Energy Stereoscopic System

The High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) is a system of five Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov Telescopes situated in the Khomas Highlands in Namibia. This area is known for its excellent observation conditions, i.e. clear sky, low humidity, and a very low level of light pollution. Also the high altitude and the position in the Southern hemisphere, which offers optimal viewing conditions of many interesting objects including the Galactic plane and the Galactic centre, make the Khomas Highland especially suited for gamma-ray observations.

H.E.S.S. investigates cosmic rays in an energy range of of 100 GeV to 100 TeV and thus operates at the upper end of the electromagnetic spectrum. At these energies, gamma rays probe the non-thermal universe: the most violent processes leave their signatures in the light of very-high-energy gamma rays such as supernova explosions whose shock fronts travel through the interstellar medium with velocities of 10,000 km/s or jets of relativistic particles launched in the vicinity of giant black holes. The unprecedented sensitivity of the H.E.S.S. telescopes allow the measurement of gamma-ray sources with intensities down to a few thousandths of the flux of the Crab Nebula - the standard candle in gamma-ray astronomy and the brightest steady source in the gamma-ray sky.

Since gamma rays cannot penetrate the Earth's atmosphere, H.E.S.S. detects them indirectly via their interactions with the air molecules. In these interactions a cascade of secondary particles is produced, a so-called air shower. The flash of Cherenkov light emitted by the air shower - much too faint and short to be visible with the naked eye - can be detected by sensitive telescopes on the ground. Large mirrors (diameters of 13 m for the four small telescopes and 28 m for the large one) reflect the light into a fine-grained camera. The camera field of view is 5° in diameter (about 10 times the diameter of the moon).

The four small H.E.S.S. telescopes have been constructed between 2000 and 2003 and are arranged 120 m apart from each other in a square. The complete array was inaugurated in 2004 and has been taking data since then. The larger fifth telescopes, which was build in the middle of the array is operational since July 2012. The addition of this fifth telescope reduced the energy threshold and increased the sensitivity of the experiment.

The H.E.S.S. observatory is operated by a collaboration of more than 260 scientists from about 40 scientific institutions and 13 different countries. Starting in 2009, the Institute of Astro- and Particle Physics of the Leopold-Franzens-University Innsbruck has joined H.E.S.S.; the Innsbruck group contributes in the field of data analysis and interpretation of Galactic as well as extragalactic phenomena.

Illustration of the Milky Way as it is seen by H.E.S.S. . Illustration of the Milky Way as it is seen by H.E.S.S. .

H.E.S.S. array The H.E.S.S. array with its five imaging Cherenkov telescopes in the Komas Highlands of Namibia.

H.E.S.S. array by night The H.E.S.S. array by night.

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