Telescope in the sea will reveal secrets of space earth

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The Independent Online

BRITISH SCIENTISTS are helping to investigate some of the greatest secrets of the universe with the help of a unique space telescope which is being built on the sea bed and will point downwards into the earth.

BRITISH SCIENTISTS are helping to investigate some of the greatest secrets of the universe with the help of a unique space telescope which is being built on the sea bed and will point downwards into the earth.

The 12 physicists and astronomers from the universities of Birmingham, Oxford and Sheffield are joining a 130-strong team from six countries which is developing the device 2.4 kilometres below the surface of the Mediterranean, 40 kilometres south-east of Marseilles.

Although the telescope - which is named after the star Antares - sounds like something from a Monty Python skit, it will be searching for the origin of dark matter which is part of the Holy Grail of space exploration. It will also discover whether the universe is expanding or contracting. It will do so by detecting particles which spend more than a million years travelling to Earth in a straight line, pass right through the planet and continue on into space. The particles, known as "neutrinos", carry no charge and have no interaction with anything else in space, but they are generated in the very core of the most powerful sources of energy in the universe.

As they pass through the Earth, they become charged and create a shock wave in the sea roughly equivalent to a jet aircraft passing through the sound barrier. This generates light which can be collected by Antares with wiring which looks a little like an air-traffic early warning system.

It means that, for the first time, scientists will be able to build up a picture of what is going on in the heart of massive natural explosions taking place in outer space. All other telescopes only record the electromagnetic radiation on the outside of the explosions.

"It sounds comical to put a space telescope on the sea-bed and then point it downwards, but it really will open a new window on the universe," said Dr Ian Kenyon, of Birmingham University's School of Physics and Astronomy, who is one of the leaders of the British contingent. This will enable scientists to look right inside the most powerful sources of energy in existence, but no one knows what they shall see because no one has looked before.

France is putting up half the £10m cost of the first phase and Dr Kenyon is applying for British money. Scientists from Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and Russia are also involved. The telescope will be finished by 2010 and will take up a cubic kilometre of the sea bed.

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