Astronomers have shown that an explosion from a dead star pushes particles to the limit of cosmic speed

12/03/2022
Credit image: NASA - Artist's conception of a white dwarf, right, accreting hydrogen from the Roche lobe of its larger companion star
Credit image: NASA - Artist's conception of a white dwarf, right, accreting hydrogen from the Roche lobe of its larger companion star

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 12 March 2022, at 03:26 am Los Angeles time

Have you ever thought that a massive eruption of a dead star can push particles to the limit of cosmic speed, that is, to immense speeds? Well, according to a new study by scientists, this is possible.

Astronomers have used the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS), a Namibian gamma-ray observer, to prove that an eruption quickly creates a shock wave that throws the surrounding material at extremely high speeds.

According to the study, astronomers made these observations on RS Ophiuchi, a nova that erupts at approx. every 15 years, the most recent eruption being last year, in 2021. Nova erupts from a cause known to astronomers, the matter swallowed by the white dwarf, one of the components of the system.

After swallowing a lot of material and reaching a limit, the white dwarf produces an explosion that can be seen by astronomers with high-performance telescopes. Meanwhile, the resulting shock wave pushes the particles at a speed that is difficult to estimate.

"When the nova exploded in August 2021, the HESS telescopes allowed us to observe a galactic explosion in very-high-energy gamma rays for the first time," said principal investigator Alison Mitchell, a researcher at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany

"The observation that the theoretical limit for particle acceleration can actually be reached in genuine cosmic shock waves has enormous implications for astrophysics," co-author Ruslan Konno, a doctoral candidate at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron in Germany, said. "It suggests that the acceleration process could be just as efficient in their much more extreme relatives, supernovas." Ruslan continues.

In these observations, there is also a premiere in the world of science. For the first time, astronomers have been able to measure the range of high-energy rays from the RS Ophiuchi nova system until about a month after the explosion.

These observations will help to better understand the cosmic rays, including their origin.

Source: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abn0567

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