Radio and IR image of the region around HESS J1640
Credit: Lemiere et al. 2009; Castelletti et al. 2011; Gotthelf et al. 2014; Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy; NASA

Taking the Pulse of the Dead

Physicists use particle accelerators, or "atom-smashers" to understand nature on the smallest scales. But natural particle accelerators can be many times more powerful than the most powerful accelerator ever built on earth. The locations of these cosmic accelerators have been identified by so-called tera-electron volt observatories, like H.E.S.S., VERITAS and MAGIC. These telescopes work by detecting the effects of enormously energetic photons produced by these extraordinary cosmic accelerators on the very atmosphere of the Earth. These telescopes, along with the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, have helped detect sites of high energy particle acceleration. Many of these sources have been identified as being associated with pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars, the dead remnants of exploded stars. But some of these sources remain a mystery. Now, thanks to the NuSTAR space observatory, one mystery has been resolved. This mysterious object, known as HESS J1640-465, was identified as a source of very high energy gamma-ray radiation. This source was associated with a supernova remnant, as shown in the composite radio and infrared image above, but the connection between this TEV source and the supernova remnant was not clear. Observations with the XMM-Newton and Chandra X-ray Observatory hinted that the source was possibly a powerful neutron star. But the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, was provided by NuSTAR. NuSTAR, with its capability to make images at energies eight times higher than either Chandra or XMM, was able to peer through the murk in front of the H.E.S.S. source, and to reveal the pulsar at its heart.
Published: September 22, 2014

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Wednesday, 24-Sep-2014 09:37:10 EDT