Eyes on the Sky

  • January 18, 2019

Cal State East Bay is helping astrophysicists expand our view of the universe. A first of its kind prototype gamma-ray telescope will soon change the way we see the cosmos — allowing scientists to study the most extreme events in the universe.  With the new technology, made possible through the collaboration of more than 100 scientists, astrophysicists have gained a unique perspective of objects in the universe millions of light years away.

Cal State East Bay Assistant Professor of Physics and gamma-ray astrophysicist Amy Furniss was involved in the development of the Prototype Schwarzchild-Couder Telescope, contributing the secondary mirrors for the new telescope and a computer science student (now alumnus) contributed, to the analysis software. Earlier this week, the instrument was completed and unveiled at the Mount Whipple Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.

“This represents the next generation of telescope that will lead gamma-ray astronomy, a field of astronomy that is only 50 years old, into the new era of multimessenger astronomy,” Furniss said. “This telescope can see a much larger portion of the sky than previous instruments, and with far greater sensitivity, allowing us to look deeper into the cosmos to answer questions about how the universe behaves.”

The telescope, which is said to be 20-times more powerful than current technology and 100-times faster than similar telescopes, will test a novel dual-mirror design to improve image quality.

Cal State East Bay students who work within Dr. Furniss’ research group will have the opportunity to travel to the Whipple Observatory to help with the commissioning of this new instrument.  They will partake in data collection, calibration, troubleshooting hardware and software and developing and testing the analysis software pipeline — all critical steps in the smooth transition to full data taking for the Prototype Schwarzchild-Couder’s testing phase.

“Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, our students can use the data from the instrument to study extreme astrophysical sources within our universe, like gamma-ray emitting galaxies that have supermassive black holes at the centers of them with huge jets of relativistic particles emerging from the vicinity of the black hole,” Furniss said.


“Questions like ‘How has the universe has changed since it was born?’ and ‘What is dark matter?’ and ‘What is the most energetic phenomenon in the universe?’ and ‘How do black holes work?’ are all high priority questions, and this telescope is poised to help scientists find the answers.”