The European Physical Journal H

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 459–513 | Cite as

Very-high energy gamma-ray astronomy

A 23-year success story in high-energy astroparticle physics
  • E. Lorenz
  • R. WagnerEmail author
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical issue: Cosmic rays, gamma rays, and neutrinos: a survey of 100 years of research


Very-high energy (VHE) gamma quanta contribute only a minuscule fraction – below one per million – to the flux of cosmic rays. Nevertheless, being neutral particles they are currently the best “messengers” of processes from the relativistic/ultra-relativistic Universe because they can be extrapolated back to their origin. The window of VHE gamma rays was opened only in 1989 by the Whipple collaboration, reporting the observation of TeV gamma rays from the Crab nebula. After a slow start, this new field of research is now rapidly expanding with the discovery of more than 150 VHE gamma-ray emitting sources. Progress is intimately related with the steady improvement of detectors and rapidly increasing computing power. We give an overview of the early attempts before and around 1989 and the progress after the pioneering work of the Whipple collaboration. The main focus of this article is on the development of experimental techniques for Earth-bound gamma-ray detectors; consequently, more emphasis is given to those experiments that made an initial breakthrough rather than to the successors which often had and have a similar (sometimes even higher) scientific output as the pioneering experiments. The considered energy threshold is about 30 GeV. At lower energies, observations can presently only be performed with balloon or satellite-borne detectors. Irrespective of the stormy experimental progress, the success story could not have been called a success story without a broad scientific output. Therefore we conclude this article with a summary of the scientific rationales and main results achieved over the last two decades.


Crab Nebula Cherenkov Light Hadronic Shower Cherenkov Telescope Magic Collaboration 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© EDP Sciences and Springer 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max-Planck-Institut für PhysikMünchenGermany
  2. 2.Excellence Cluster “Origin and Structure of the Universe”Garching b. MünchenGermany

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