Credit: JAXA/ Takaaki Tanaka/HESS
What energy crisis? Astronomers know of many places in the cosmos where abundant energy sources exist. Among the most impressive are the mysterious particle accelerators that raise protons, electrons and other charged particles to ultrahigh energies and fling them out in the galaxy as "cosmic rays". These accelerators can produce astoundingly energetic particles: a single atom can pack as much kinetic punch as a Roger Clemens fastball. But what's the source of the juice? New high energy images of a 1600-year old supernova remnant by the Suzaku and Chandra X-ray Observatories, combined with ground-based imaging by the High Energy Stereoscopic System
(HESS) array in Namibia have helped clarify this mystery. The supernova remnant is called
RXJ 1713.7-3946 by positionally-enamored astronomers, and the color image above shows the X-ray intensity from the remnant as mapped by the Suzaku observatory. The contours show regions of especially high energy particle emission detected by HESS. The Suzaku and HESS images show locations in which subatomic particles are being accelerated by a magnetic field threading the remnant. Chandra provided key observations of "hot spots" in the bright parts of the remnant which appear and then fade away, allowing astronomers for the first time to directly measure the magnetic field strength from X-ray observations. As particles gain energy they eventually reach nearly the speed of light and shoot out into the rest of the Galaxy. Energizing cosmic rays in supernova remnants - perhaps this is the ultimate fossil fuel.
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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:24:07 EDT