HAWC, the only Gamma Ray Observatory in Mexico – and the World

By Fernanda Duque Hernández

The answer to the origins of the universe gets closer.

The High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) observatory is a unique scientific research center in the world, with the capacity to observe 2/3 of the sky. And it’s located in Mexico.

At 4km above sea level and surrounded by two volcanoes: Pico de Orizaba - the highest in the country - and the Sierra Negra; HAWC detects and analyzes gamma rays that hit the planet from outer space. This area of study is also known as high-energy astrophysics and is used to formulate and refute theories about the origins of the universe, as well as other cosmic events.

Gamma rays are particles that irradiate a million times more power than the energy of visible light. This energy is generated by violent cosmic events such as explosions, crashes and collapses. They are also generated by stars like the sun and black holes.

HAWC Gamma Ray Observatory

Because of HAWC’s privileged position and its cutting-edge technology, researchers have been able to embark on more detailed investigation on gamma rays and their effects. This 30,000m2 unit has 300 tanks of pure water to sense and record Cherenkov radiation, that is the flashes of light created by gamma ray particles after their impact with earth atmosphere. This energy is then measured by a sophisticated system.

By analyzing the speed, direction and time of arrival of gamma rays, scientists can determine where they originated from and how this energy reached Earth.

The HAWC - which receives information on 40,000 cosmic events per second - was created with the collaboration of 30 institutions from Mexico and the United States at a cost of US $15.5 million.

Its construction began in 2005 and was inaugurated earlier this week by the director of Mexico’s National Council for Science and Technology (Conacyt), Enrique Cabrero and France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation of the U.S.

Gamma Ray Observatory Mexico

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