Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Unveiling The High Energy Milky Way Reveals 'Dark Accelerators'

Date:
May 31, 2005
Source:
Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council
Summary:
Astronomers recently reported results of a first sensitive survey of the central part of our galaxy in very high energy (VHE) gamma-rays. Included among the new objects discovered are two 'dark accelerators' - mysterious objects that are emitting energetic particles, yet apparently have no optical or x-ray counterpart.

The galactic plane is seen in different wavebands in the central part between Galactic longitude +35 to -35 and Galactic latitude +4 to -4. The top panel shows the picture of the Milky Way in the infrared as recorded by the IRAS satellite. The Galactic plane is clearly seen as broad strip running through the middle of the picture. This infrared emission is mostly due to interstellar dust warmed by absorbed starlight. In the middle panel the optical image of the central part of our Galaxy is shown as it can be seen by the naked eye in clear nights. Most of the central part of the Galaxy is hidden by the above mentioned interstellar dust. Most of this starlight is emitted by stars that are close to the solar system on the scale of the Milky Way. The bottom panel shows the new picture of the Milky Way as seen by H.E.S.S. in very high energy gamma-rays. Individual sources of this radiation can be clearly seen. The big bright source is the supernova remnant RX J1713.7-3946 that has recently been reported by the H.E.S.S. collaboration. It can be clearly seen, that most of the new sources of very high energy gamma-rays cluster along the Galactic plane.
Credit: Image courtesy of Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council

In the March 25th 2005 issue of Science Magazine, the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) team of international astrophysicists, including UK astronomers from the University of Durham, report results of a first sensitive survey of the central part of our galaxy in very high energy (VHE) gamma-rays. Included among the new objects discovered are two 'dark accelerators' - mysterious objects that are emitting energetic particles, yet apparently have no optical or x-ray counterpart.

This survey reveals a total of eight new sources of VHE gamma-rays in the disc of our Galaxy, essentially doubling the number known at these energies. The results have pushed astronomy into a previously unknown domain, extending our knowledge of the Milky Way in a novel wavelength regime thereby opening a new window on our galaxy.

Gamma-rays are produced in extreme cosmic particle accelerators such as supernova explosions and provide a unique view of the high energy processes at work in the Milky Way. VHE gamma-ray astronomy is still a young field and H.E.S.S. is conducting the first sensitive survey at this energy range, finding previously unknown sources.

Particularly stunning is that two of these new sources discovered by H.E.S.S. have no obvious counterparts in more conventional wavelength bands such as optical and X-ray astronomy. The discovery of VHE gamma-rays from such sources suggests that they may be 'dark accelerators', as Stefan Funk from the Max-Planck Institut in Heidelberg affirms: "These objects seem to only emit radiation in the highest energy bands. We had hoped that with a new instrument like H.E.S.S. we would detect some new sources, but the success we have now exceeds all our expectations."

Dr Paula Chadwick of the University of Durham adds "Many of the new objects seem to be known categories of sources, such as supernova remnants and pulsar wind nebulae. Data on these objects will help us to understand particle acceleration in our galaxy in more detail; but finding these 'dark accelerators' was a surprise. With no counterpart at other wavelengths, they are, for the moment, a complete mystery."

Cosmic particle accelerators are believed to accelerate charged particles, such as electrons and ions, by acting on these particles with strong shock waves. High-energy gamma rays are secondary products of the cosmic accelerators and are easier to detect because they travel in straight lines from the source, unlike charged particles which are deflected by magnetic fields. The cosmic accelerators are usually visible at other wavelengths as well as VHE gamma rays.

The H.E.S.S. array is ideal for finding these new VHE gamma ray objects, because as well as studying objects seen at other wavelengths that are expected to be sources of very high energy gamma rays, its wide field of view (ten times the diameter of the Moon) means that it can survey the sky and discover previously unknown sources.

Another important discovery is that the new sources appear with a typical size of the order of a tenth of a degree; the H.E.S.S. instrument for the first time provides sufficient resolution and sensitivity to see such structures. Since the objects cluster within a fraction of a degree from the plane of our Galaxy, they are most likely located at a significant distance - several 1000 light years from the sun - which implies that these cosmic particle accelerators extend over a size of light years.

The results were obtained using the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) telescopes in Namibia, in South-West Africa. This system of four 13 m diameter telescopes is currently the most sensitive detector of VHE gamma-rays, radiation a million million times more energetic than the visible light. These high energy gamma rays are quite rare - even for relatively strong sources, only about one gamma ray per month hits a square meter at the top of the earth's atmosphere. Also, since they are absorbed in the atmosphere, a direct detection of a significant number of the rare gamma rays would require a satellite of huge size. The H.E.S.S. telescopes employ a trick - they use the atmosphere as detector medium. When gamma rays are absorbed in the air, they emit short flashes of blue light, named Cherenkov light, lasting a few billionths of a second. This light is collected by the H.E.S.S. telescopes with big mirrors and extremely sensitive cameras and can be used to create images of astronomical objects as they appear in gamma-rays.

The H.E.S.S. telescopes represent several years of construction effort by an international team of more than 100 scientists and engineers from Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Armenia, South Africa and the host country Namibia. The instrument was inaugurated in September 2004 by the Namibian Prime Minister, Theo-Ben Guirab, and its first data have already resulted in a number of important discoveries, including the first astronomical image of a supernova shock wave at the highest gamma-ray energies.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council. "Unveiling The High Energy Milky Way Reveals 'Dark Accelerators'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 May 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050528141910.htm>.
Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council. (2005, May 31). Unveiling The High Energy Milky Way Reveals 'Dark Accelerators'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050528141910.htm
Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council. "Unveiling The High Energy Milky Way Reveals 'Dark Accelerators'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050528141910.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Boeing, SpaceX to Send Astronauts to Space Station

Boeing, SpaceX to Send Astronauts to Space Station

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) — NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX on Tuesday to build America's next spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017, opening the way to a new chapter in human spaceflight. Duration: 01:13 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) — Numerous residents along the East Coast reported seeing a bright meteor flash through the sky Sunday night. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Picks Boeing and SpaceX to Ferry Astronauts

NASA Picks Boeing and SpaceX to Ferry Astronauts

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — NASA is a giant step closer to launching Americans again from U.S. soil. It has announced it has picked Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts to the International Space Station in the next few years. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins