"Scientists have been trying to find the sources of high-energy cosmic rays since their discovery a century ago," said Elizabeth Hays, a member of the research team and Fermi deputy project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Now we have conclusive proof supernova remnants, long the prime suspects, really do accelerate cosmic rays to incredible speeds."
Cosmic rays are subatomic particles that move through space at almost the speed of light. About 90 percent of them are protons, with the remainder consisting of electrons and atomic nuclei. In their journey across the galaxy, the electrically charged particles are deflected by magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and makes it impossible to trace their origins directly.
Through a variety of mechanisms, these speedy particles can lead to the emission of gamma rays, the most powerful form of light and a signal that travels to us directly from its sources.
Since its launch in 2008, Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has mapped million- to billion-electron-volt (MeV to GeV) gamma-rays from supernova remnants. For comparison, the energy of visible light is between 2 and 3 electron volts.
The Fermi results concern two particular supernova remnants, known as IC 443 and W44, which scientists studied to prove supernova remnants produce cosmic rays. IC 443 and W44 are expanding into cold, dense clouds of interstellar gas. These clouds emit gamma rays when struck by high-speed particles escaping the remnants.
Scientists previously could not determine which atomic particles are responsible for emissions from the interstellar gas clouds because cosmic ray protons and electrons give rise to gamma rays with similar energies. After analyzing four years of data, Fermi scientists see a distinguishable feature in the gamma-ray emission of both remnants. The feature is caused by a short-lived particle called a neutral pion, which is produced when cosmic ray protons smash into normal protons. The pion quickly decays into a pair of gamma rays, emission that exhibits a swift and characteristic decline at lower energies. The low-end cutoff acts as a fingerprint, providing clear proof that the culprits in IC 443 and W44 are protons.
The findings will appear in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
"The discovery is the smoking gun that these two supernova remnants are producing accelerated protons," said lead researcher Stefan Funk, an astrophysicist with the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University in Calif. "Now we can work to better understand how they manage this feat and determine if the process is common to all remnants where we see gamma-ray emission."
In 1949, the Fermi telescope's namesake, physicist Enrico Fermi, suggested the highest-energy cosmic rays were accelerated in the magnetic fields of interstellar gas clouds. In the decades that followed, astronomers showed supernova remnants were the galaxy's best candidate sites for this process.
A charged particle trapped in a supernova remnant's magnetic field moves randomly throughout the field and occasionally crosses through the explosion's leading shock wave. Each round trip through the shock ramps up the particle's speed by about 1 percent. After many crossings, the particle obtains enough energy to break free and escape into the galaxy as a newborn cosmic ray.
The supernova remnant IC 443, popularly known as the Jellyfish Nebula, is located 5,000 light-years away toward the constellation Gemini and is thought to be about 10,000 years old. W44 lies about 9,500 light-years away toward the constellation Aquila and is estimated to be 20,000 years old. Each is the expanding shock wave and debris formed when a massive star exploded.
The Fermi discovery builds on a strong hint of neutral pion decay in W44 observed by the Italian Space Agency's AGILE gamma ray observatory and published in late 2011.
NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership. Goddard manages Fermi. The telescope was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, with contributions from academic institutions and partners in the United States France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.For images and a video related to this finding, please visit:
J.D. Harrington | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > Gamma-ray > Gamma-ray Space Telescope > Goddard Space Flight Center > Space > Space Telescope > Supernova > Telescope > atomic particles > cosmic ray > gamma rays > gas clouds > interstellar gas > magnetic field > shock wave > speed|scan atlineCT-System > subatomic particle > supernova remnant
Nano-kirigami: 'Paper-cut' provides model for 3D intelligent nanofabrication
16.07.2018 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters
Theorists publish highest-precision prediction of muon magnetic anomaly
16.07.2018 | DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
13.07.2018 | Life Sciences