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Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Utah

Mountain-top observatory sees gamma rays from exotic Milky Way object

Space jets accelerate particles and send a high energy signal to Earth.

The night sky seems serene, but telescopes tell us that the universe is filled with collisions and explosions. Distant, violent events signal their presence by spewing light and particles in all directions. When these messengers reach Earth, scientists can use them to map out the action-packed sky, helping to better understand the volatile processes happening deep within space.
For the first time, an international collaboration of scientists, including physicists from the University of Utah, has detected highly energetic light coming from the outermost regions of an unusual star system within our own galaxy. The source is a microquasar—a black hole that gobbles up matter from a nearby companion star and blasts out powerful jets of material. The team’s observations, described in the Oct. 4 issue of the journal Nature, strongly suggest that electron acceleration and collisions at the ends of the microquasar’s jets produced the powerful gamma rays. Scientists think that studying messengers from this microquasar may offer a glimpse into more extreme events happening at the centers of distant galaxies.

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