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Last Updated: Monday, 19 March 2007, 15:45 GMT
Stellar award for UK astronomers
Supernova 1987A   Nasa/P. Challis/r. Kirshner/B. Sugerman
Supernovae bombard the Earth with cosmic rays
An international team, including Durham University scientists, has won a prestigious award for studying some of the universe's most violent phenomena.

The High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) researchers were awarded the Descartes Basic Research prize for their work on cosmic gamma rays.

The team uses an extremely sensitive telescope array based in Namibia.

Cosmic rays are high energy particles, emitted by black holes and supernovae, which bombard the Earth.

Team scientist Dr Paula Chadwick of Durham University said: "We are surrounded by these high energy cosmic particles and life on Earth has evolved around them over the past four billion years.

"To get an idea of the scale of the energy they contain, just one of these particles can contain as much energy as a tennis ball served at 100 miles per hour."

European Union

It is hoped that the HESS research will shed light on the scale of the universe and its energy budget.

The award-winning team includes members from Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Armenia, South Africa and Namibia.

The Descartes Prize for Basic Research, is worth 226,000, and is awarded by the European Union.

Last year, Durham University's Chancellor, Dr Bill Bryson won the Descartes prize for science communication.


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