Wits scientists help discover galaxy's most powerful source of cosmic radiation

17 March 2016 - 11:28 By TMG Digital

An international team of scientists‚ including astrophysicists from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg‚ have announced they have found the most powerful source of cosmic radiation at the centre of our galaxy. SA astronomers help discover hidden galaxies behind Milky WayTheir findings‚ published on Wednesday evening in the scientific journal Nature‚ reveal for the first time a source of cosmic radiation at energies never observed before in the Milky Way.The supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy is likely to accelerate cosmic ray particles to energies 100 times larger than those achieved at the largest terrestrial particle accelerator‚ the Large Hadron Collider at European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland.According to Professor Sergio Colafrancesco‚ DST/NRF SKA Research Chair in the School of Physics at Wits University‚ the discovery sheds light simultaneously on two fundamental aspects of nature: the understanding of the origin of cosmic rays‚ since the discovery of their extraterrestrial nature in 1912‚ and the ability of the super-massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy (as in almost every other galaxy in the universe) to accelerate the most energetic particles produced in the universe. “We are therefore able to use the center of our Galaxy as a laboratory for testing the nature and the interaction properties of the most extreme particles in the universe‚ beyond the capability of any viable terrestrial accelerator‚” says Colafrancesco. “In future our understanding of how cosmic rays travel in the Galaxy on their path to the Earth and how they interact with the material of which our Galaxy is made of‚ will also be further boosted by combining the H.E.S.S. gamma-ray measurements in the inner 30 light years of our Galaxy with the radio measurements of the magnetic field in the same region that will be produced by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and its precursor MeerKAT radio telescope.”The finding is yet another discovery emanating from detailed analysis of the latest data from the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) observatory in Namibia.

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