Scientists at the University of Southampton, together with colleagues at Liverpool John Moores University (JMU), have been awarded over £700,000 in government funding to develop facilities to investigate ‘gamma ray bursters’-unpredictable, intense and very short-lived flashes of gamma radiation that have been observed for over thirty years but still remain mysterious.

Welcoming news of the award from the Government’s Science Research Investment Fund (SRIF), Professor Phil Charles of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Southampton, said: ‘We are delighted that the important research in this area of astrophysics has been recognised with this award.

‘Gamma ray bursters, or GRBs as they are known, are the most violent explosions since the Big Bang itself, but we still don’t know what causes them. To improve our understanding we need to be able to observe them from the ground within minutes of a flash being detected by a spacecraft.

‘The collaborative SRIF programme between Southampton and JMU will enable us to design and build a state-of-the-art robotic spectrograph which we hope will help us obtain the first ever optical spectrum of a burst. It is through such spectroscopy that real breakthroughs in our understanding are likely to come.’

The spectrograph will be located at the new Liverpool Telescope (LT), due to begin operation in the next few months in the Canary Islands. This will be the largest and
most sophisticated telescope specifically designed for this task in the world, capable of fixing on a target within a minute of an alert and analysing the information.

In addition to the spectrograph, the SRIF funds will enable the partners to enhance their instrument-building capabilities and provide the significant upgrades to their computing facilities needed to handle the flow of data.

Completion of the new facilities and spectrograph is due in 2004, just in time to make significant contributions as a ground-based follow-up facility for the US/UK SWIFT gamma-ray satellite mission. SWIFT will provide the targets that telescopes such as the LT will then observe in detail.

Notes for editors:

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship.
The University has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £200 million.

For the latest news from the University visit SotONLINE, the University of
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For further information:

Professor Phil Charles, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton 023 8059 2076, mobile 07968 158213, email

Sarah Watts, External Relations, University of Southampton
023 8059 3807

Professor Mike Bode, Astrophysics Research Institute, JMU, 0151 231 2920
Chris Theobald, JMU, 0151 707 1187


Ms Sarah Watts
University of Southampton
023 8059 3807