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Highest-Energy Photons Ever Recorded Blasted to Earth from the Crab Nebula

Highest-Energy Photons Ever Recorded Blasted to Earth from the Crab Nebula

High up on the Tibetan Plateau, also known as the 'Roof of the World,' is the Tibetan Air Shower Gamma Experiment, where a team of scientists and astronomers from China and Japan have just discovered the highest-energy light ever to be recorded from an astrophysical source.

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Photons coming from the Crab Nebula were measured at energies upward of 100 tera-electronvolts (TeV). Meaning, a trillion electron volts. One measured photon is roughly the equivalent of a falling ping-pong ball.

That's a lot of ping-pong balls.

The team on the Tibetan Plateau published their findings in the Physical Review Letters on Monday.

The Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula is a shattered piece of a huge star that ended in a supernova explosion, nearly a thousand years ago, when it reached Earth in 1054 CE.

After shattering into many pieces, the star's detritus, now spread and grown, shine brightly in the night sky. They crackle low-energy waves and blast out high-energy gamma and x-rays.

What's so incredible with this recent discovery is that it's usually tricky for high-energy photons like gamma rays to even make it past the Earth's atmosphere. What the team of Chinese and Japanese scientists has done is to combine 597 detectors across 65,700 square meters of land.

Additionally, eight feet under this array are 64 concrete barrels, filled to the brim with water, serving as extra detectors.

In collecting their data, the researchers found 24 events greater than 100 TeV - all traceable back to the Crab Nebula. This makes it the highest ever recorded. A clear sign of the massive powerhouse of energy that lurks within the Crab Nebula.

It's not yet known how the Crab Nebula creates such high-energy gamma rays.

The Tibetan AS Experiment will keep looking for the answers, but as we've seen here, it takes years to amass data and to then go through it.


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