The picture that emerges from these first-ever simultaneous observations with optical, X-ray and new-generation gamma-ray telescopes is much more complex than scientists expected and challenges current theories of how the radiation is generated.
The galaxy in question is PKS 2155-304, a type of object known as a "blazar." Like many active galaxies, a blazar emits oppositely directed jets of particles traveling near the speed of light as matter falls into a central supermassive black hole; this process is not well understood. In the case of blazars, the galaxy is oriented such that we're looking right down the jet.
PKS 2155-304 is located 1.5 billion light-years away in the southern constellation of Piscis Austrinus and is usually a detectable but faint gamma-ray source. But when its jet undergoes a major outburst, as it did in 2006, the galaxy can become the brightest source in the sky at the highest gamma-ray energies scientists can detect -- up to 50 trillion times the energy of visible light. Even from strong sources, only about one gamma ray this energetic strikes a square yard at the top of Earth's atmosphere each month.
Atmospheric absorption of one of these gamma rays creates a short-lived shower of subatomic particles. As these fast-moving particles rush through the atmosphere, they produce a faint flash of blue light. The High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S), an array of telescopes located in Namibia, captured these flashes from PKS 2155-304.
Gamma rays at lower energies were detected directly by the Large Area Telescope (LAT) aboard NASA's orbiting Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. "The launch of Fermi gives us the opportunity to measure this powerful galaxy across as many wavelengths as possible for the first time," says Werner Hofmann, spokesperson for the H.E.S.S. team at the Max-Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany.
With the gamma-ray regime fully covered, the team turned to NASA's Swift and Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellites to provide data on the galaxy's X-ray emissions. Rounding out the wavelength coverage was the H.E.S.S. Automatic Telescope for Optical Monitoring, which recorded the galaxy's activity in visible light.
Between August 25 and September 6, 2008, the telescopes monitored PKS 2155-304 in its quiet, non-flaring state. The results of the 12-day campaign are surprising. During flaring episodes of this and other blazars, the X- and gamma-ray emission rise and fall together. But it doesn't happen this way when PKS 2155-304 is in its quiet state -- and no one knows why.
What's even stranger is that the galaxy's visible light rises and falls with its gamma-ray emission. "It's like watching a blowtorch where the highest temperatures and the lowest temperatures change in step, but the middle temperatures do not," says Berrie Giebels, an astrophysicist at France's École Polytechnique who works with both the H.E.S.S. and Fermi LAT teams.
"Astronomers are learning that the various constituents of the jets in blazars interact in fairly complicated ways to produce the radiation that we observe," says Fermi team member Jim Chiang at Stanford University, Calif. "These observations may contain the first clues to help us untangle what's really going on deep in the heart of a blazar."
The findings have been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal.
The H.E.S.S. team includes scientists from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Armenia, South Africa and Namibia. The Fermi mission is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed by NASA in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the United States.
Francis Reddy | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > Automatic Telescope for Optical Monitoring > Blazar > Fermi > LAT > NASA's Fermi Mission > Namibia > Namibia's HESS Telescopes > PKS > RXTE > Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer satellites > Telescope > X-ray microscopy > active galaxy > central supermassive black hole > changes in radiation > first-ever simultaneous observations > gamma-ray energies > new-generation gamma-ray telescopes > visible light > wavelength
Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy