Regular signals from space have been known since the 1960s, when the first radio pulsar (nicknamed Little Green Men-1 for its regular nature) was discovered. This is the first time a signal has been seen at such high energies – 100,000 times higher than previously known - and is reported today (24th November) in the Journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The signal comes from a system called LS 5039 which was discovered by the H.E.S.S. team in 2005. LS5039 is a binary system formed of a massive blue star (20 times the mass of the Sun) and an unknown object, possibly a black hole. The two objects orbit each other at very short distance, varying between only 1/5 and 2/5 of the separation of the Earth from the Sun, with one orbit completed every four days.
“The way in which the gamma ray signal varies makes LS5039 a unique laboratory for studying particle acceleration near compact objects such as black holes.” Explained Dr Paula Chadwick from the University of Durham, a British team member of H.E.S.S.
Different mechanisms can affect the gamma-ray signal that reaches Earth and by seeing how the signal varies, astronomers can learn a great deal about binary systems such as LS 5039 and also the effects that take place near black holes.
As it dives towards the blue-giant star, the compact companion is exposed to the strong stellar 'wind' and the intense light radiated by the star, allowing on the one hand particles to be accelerated to high energies, but at the same time making it increasingly difficult for gamma rays produced by these particles to escape, depending on the orientation of the system with respect to us. The interplay of these two effects is at the root of the complex modulation pattern.
The gamma-ray signal is strongest when the compact object (thought to be a black hole) is in front of the star as seen from Earth and weakest when it is behind the star. The gamma rays are thought to be produced as particles which are accelerated in the star’s atmosphere (the stellar wind) interact with the compact object. The compact object acts as a probe of the star’s environment, showing how the magnetic field varies depending on distance from the star by mirroring those changes in the gamma ray signal.
In addition, a geometrical effect adds a further modulation to the flux of gamma-rays observed from the Earth. We know since Einstein derived his famous equation (E=mc²) that matter and energy are equivalent, and that pairs of particles and antiparticles can mutually annihilate to give light. Symmetrically, when very energetic gamma rays meet the light from a massive star, they can be converted into matter (an electron-positron pair in this case). So, the light from the star resembles, for gamma rays, a fog which masks the source of the gamma rays when the compact object is behind the star, partially eclipsing the source. “The periodic absorption of gamma-rays is a nice illustration of the production of matter-antimatter pairs by light, though it also obscures the view to the particle accelerator in this system” (Guillaume Dubus, Astrophysical Laboratory of the Grenoble Observatory, LAOG).
Julia Maddock | alfa
Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore
Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering