Years of work are about to pay off, as Europe’s Large Hadron Collider is almost ready to come online. Soon physicists will be awash in data from the highly energetic particle collisions generated in the facility. But Nature, as usual, already has the upper hand, with a natural particle accelerator capable of pushing particles with 20 times as much energy as the LHC.
ESA’s Integral gamma ray observatory has been watching one of the brightest X-ray regions in the sky, known as the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster. And it’s turned up evidence that the violent region is acting like a natural particle accelerator, pushing electrons to enormous energies.
What kind of environment could create this?
You think the Sun is hot, clocking at a few thousand degrees Kelvin. But the gas in Ophiuchus is more than 100 million degrees Kelvin. Ophiuchus actually contains two galaxies clusters in the process of merging. The violence of this merger sends intense shockwaves rippling through the superheated gas.
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The researchers are considering two specific mechanisms for how these X-rays are produced, and are planning follow-up observations to understand it better. In one situation, electrons are caught in the magnetic field threading through the cluster. As they spiral around, they would release the X-ray radiation. In a second scenario, the electrons would actually carry 100,000 times as much energy, and might be colliding with the background microwave radiation in the Universe, left over from the Big Bang.
It’s this X-ray radiation that Integral spotted.
Ophiuchus is able to give particles 20 times as much energy as researcher are hoping to coax out of the Large Hadron Collider.
“Of course the Ophiuchus cluster is somewhat bigger,” says StÃ©phane Paltani, a member of the team. While LHC is 27 km across, the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster is over two million light-years in diameter.”
Original Source: ESA News Release