Toward the detection of relativistic image doubling in imaging atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes

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Department of Physics


Cosmic gamma-ray photons incident on the upper atmosphere create air showers that move to the Earth's surface with superluminal speed, relative to the air. Even though many of these air showers remain superluminal all along their trajectories, the shower's velocity component toward a single Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov Telescope (IACT) may drop from superluminal to subluminal. When this happens, an IACT that is able to resolve the air shower both in time and angle should be able to document an unusual optical effect known as relativistic image doubling (RID). The logic of RID is that the shower appears to precede its own Cherenkov radiation when its speed component toward the IACT is superluminal, but appears to trail its own Cherenkov radiation when its speed component toward the IACT is subluminal. The result is that the IACT will see the shower start not at the top of the atmosphere but in the middle—at the point along the shower's path where its radial velocity component drops to subluminal. Images of the shower would then be seen by the IACT to go both up and down simultaneously. A simple simulation demonstrating this effect is presented. Clear identification of RID would confirm in the atmosphere a novel optical imaging effect caused not by lenses but solely by relativistic kinematics, and may aid in the accuracy of path and speed reconstructions of the relativistic air shower.

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The Astrophysical Journal