Prospects in space-based gamma-ray astronomy
Observations of the gamma-ray sky reveal the most powerful sources and the most violent events in the Universe. While at lower wavebands the observed emission is generally dominated by thermal processes, the gamma-ray sky provides us with a view on the non-thermal Universe. Here particles are accelerated to extreme relativistic energies by mechanisms which are still poorly understood, and nuclear reactions are synthesizing the basic constituents of our world. Cosmic accelerators and cosmic explosions are the major science themes that are addressed in the gamma-ray regime.
With the INTEGRAL observatory, ESA has provided a unique tool to the astronomical community revealing hundreds of sources, new classes of objects, extraordinary views of antimatter annihilation in our Galaxy, and fingerprints of recent nucleosynthesis processes. While INTEGRAL provides the global overview over the soft gamma-ray sky, there is a growing need to perform deeper, more focused investigations of gamma-ray sources. In soft X-rays a comparable step was taken going from the Einstein and the EXOSAT satellites to the Chandra and XMM/Newton observatories. Technological advances in the past years in the domain of gamma-ray focusing using Laue diffraction and multilayer-coated mirror techniques have paved the way towards a gamma-ray mission, providing major improvements compared to past missions regarding sensitivity and angular resolution. Such a future Gamma-Ray Imager will allow to study particle acceleration processes and explosion physics in unprecedented detail, providing essential clues on the innermost nature of the most violent and most energetic processes in the Universe.
KeywordsGamma-ray astronomy astronomy Cosmic accelerators Cosmic explosions
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