Detecting Superfast Matter

  • Released Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:51PM
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Scientists always suspected supernova remnants could speed up cosmic rays, the streams of charged particles that exist throughout space. Now they have proof. NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope caught two supernova remnants—IC 443 and W44—red-handed as they accelerated cosmic rays to near the speed of light. As cosmic rays travel through the Milky Way galaxy, magnetic fields scramble their paths. By the time the particles reach Earth, the tracks leading back to their source are so complex they’re completely untraceable. So scientists came up with an indirect method for identifying the origins of these particles: observing gamma-ray emissions created by the interaction of accelerated cosmic rays with clouds of interstellar gas. Watch the video to learn more.

Cosmic rays (blue) wander randomly through the galaxy, while gamma rays (magenta) travel to Earth straight from their source.

Cosmic rays (blue) wander randomly through the galaxy, while gamma rays (magenta) travel to Earth straight from their source.

W44 supernova remnant, shown here in multiple wavelengths, including gamma rays (magenta).

W44 supernova remnant, shown here in multiple wavelengths, including gamma rays (magenta).

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope launched into space in 2008.

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope launched into space in 2008.

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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Cover image courtesy of NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, Tom Bash and John Fox/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF, JPL-Caltech/UCLA
W44 image courtesy of NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, NRAO/AUI, JPL-Caltech, ROSAT