The headquarters of the “High Energy Universe” in Bologna. An Interview with Federico Ferrini
In March 2018, Federico Ferrini became the new Managing Director of the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory-CTAO, the headquarters of the most impressive project for the observation of the Universe through gamma rays. Let’s find out more about this international project that has its central office in Bologna, within the premises of the National Institute for Astrophysics.
Professor Ferrini, what is the Cherenkov Telescope Array?
The Cherenkov Telescope Array is the largest and most powerful gamma-ray observatory in the world, which involves the construction of over a hundred telescopes distributed in the two terrestrial hemispheres, more precisely in the Atacama Desert in Chile and in the Canary Islands archipelago. This telescope array, which will begin operating in 2024, will try to detect the so-called “Cherenkov light”: an extremely rare physical phenomenon, difficult to detect, produced when very high energy magnetic radiation, gamma rays, impacts the Earth’s atmosphere. These observations will allow us to trace the most violent events in the Universe and find an answer to some of the questions about the Universe that are still unresolved, such as the early stages of galaxy formation.
What is the role of Bologna in this large international project?
In June 2016, the CTA Council selected Bologna as the host site of the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory, or CTAO, that is, the operations centre and “brain” of the whole project. The new centre, which I will have the honour of directing, is located within the laboratories of the National Institute for Astrophysics in Bologna and it is here that the most important decisions will be made regarding the CTA project, which is included in the ESFRI roadmap for research infrastructures of pan-European interest. The fact that Bologna has been chosen as the host site of the Cherenkov Telescope Array headquarters is recognition of the important role played by Italy in this international project, which currently involves 32 countries around the world.
Apart from hosting the headquarters, how does Italy play a leading role in the Cherenkov Telescope Array project?
Italy, through the National Institute for Astrophysics-INAF and the National Institute for Nuclear Physics-INFN, is at the forefront in the construction of all three types of telescopes that will form the Cherenkov Telescope Array, which will have a diameter of 23, 12 and 4 metres. Through INAF, Italy will build small size telescopes reproducing the prototype telescope built under the ASTRI flagship project, funded by MIUR, and installed on Mount Etna, at the Astrophysical Observatory of Catania. In June 2017, this “made in Italy” telescope detected the first flashes of Cherenkov light, demonstrating that it works perfectly. But Italy will play an active role in the CTA project through INFN, contributing to the construction of the electronic components for the medium and large size telescopes.
Why are the CTA telescopes so important? How could they provide answers to many unanswered questions about our Universe?
The Cherenkov Telescope Array will provide us with a unique observatory to carry out a systematic study of the gamma ray phenomena that occur in the Universe and that involve energies that are much higher than those reproduced in the LHC accelerator at CERN. Thanks to these telescopes, we will be able to explore the extreme Universe that no other instrument has ever been able to reach, to obtain a complete picture of these phenomena and investigate unexplored frontiers. We will also have the opportunity to answer some important questions of fundamental physics, such as the nature of dark matter.
Prior to this position, you were the Director of the European Gravitational Observatory-EGO of Cascina, near Pisa, which hosts the VIRGO interferometer. What do VIRGO and CTA have in common?
That of VIRGO was an extraordinary adventure in which I was personally involved from the construction of Advanced VIRGO up to the first amazing discoveries of gravitational waves. Both VIRGO and CTA are extraordinary examples of astroparticle physics, in which the high energy phenomena of the Universe are observed using completely different techniques. After completing my adventure with VIRGO, I am now ready to bring my experience and enthusiasm to this other ambitious pillar of astroparticle physics, hoping that this will help to achieve new goals in the knowledge of the Universe.