Solar System Chatter

Nature’s Particle Accelerator

X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. van Weeren et al; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru;
X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. van Weeren et al; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru;
Astronomers have found an immense natural particle accelerator in space. New views from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, combined with data from several ground telescopes, show an unusual comet-shaped formation happening within a couple of colliding galaxies located about two billion light years away. When astronomers looked in more detail, they determined at least one black hole must be at the origin of the formation, producing a “rotating, tightly-wound magnetic funnel,” according to the press release. Then that jet of particles is accelerated even more due to the shock waves from the galaxy collision. “It’s almost like launching a rocket into low-Earth orbit and then getting shot out of the solar system by a second rocket blast,” said Felipe Andrade-Santos of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The material is not only more energetic than anything that could be created in a particle accelerator on Earth, but also more than nearly any other material observed in the universe.

Heather Goss is the Departments Editor at Air & Space.

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