Fermi's latest gamma-ray census highlights cosmic mysteries

September 9, 2011
This all-sky image, constructed from two years of observations by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, shows how the sky appears at energies greater than 1 billion electron volts (1 GeV). Brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. For comparison, the energy of visible light is between 2 and 3 electron volts. A diffuse glow fills the sky and is brightest along the plane of our galaxy (middle). Discrete gamma-ray sources include pulsars and supernova remnants within our galaxy as well as distant galaxies powered by supermassive black holes. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

(PhysOrg.com) -- Every three hours, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope scans the entire sky and deepens its portrait of the high-energy universe. Every year, the satellite's scientists reanalyze all of the data it has collected, exploiting updated analysis methods to tease out new sources. These relatively steady sources are in addition to the numerous transient events Fermi detects, such as gamma-ray bursts in the distant universe and flares from the sun.

Earlier this year, the Fermi team released its second catalog of sources detected by the satellite's Large Area Telescope (LAT), producing an inventory of 1,873 objects shining with the highest-energy form of light. "More than half of these sources are active galaxies, whose massive are responsible for the gamma-ray emissions that the LAT detects," said Gino Tosti, an astrophysicist at the University of Perugia in Italy and currently a visiting scientist at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif.

One of the scientists who led the new compilation, Tosti today presented a paper on the catalog at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's High Energy Astrophysics Division in Newport, R.I. "What is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of our new catalog is the large number of sources not associated with objects detected at any other wavelength," he noted.

Indeed, if the Fermi catalog were a recipe, the two major ingredients would be active galaxies and pure mystery. To them, add in a pinch of pulsars, a dollop of supernova remnants, and a dash of other celestial objects, such as globular star clusters and galaxies like our own Milky Way.

Astronomers delight in the possibility of finding new types of gamma-ray-emitting objects within the "unassociated sources" that constitute roughly a third of the catalog. But Fermi's LAT is revealing gamma-rays from an increasing -- and sometimes, surprising -- variety of astronomical objects. To highlight the range of LAT discoveries, the Fermi team created the following "top ten" list of five sources within the Milky Way and five beyond our galaxy.

Active galaxies called blazars constitute the single largest source class in the second Fermi LAT catalog, but nearly a third of the sources are unassociated with objects at any other wavelength. Their natures are unknown. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The top five sources within our galaxy are:

The Crab Nebula. The famous Crab Nebula, located in the constellation Taurus, is the wreckage of an exploded star whose light reached Earth in 1054. Located 6,500 light-years away, the Crab is one of the most studied objects in the sky. At the heart of an expanding gas cloud lies what's left of the original star's core, a superdense neutron star (also called a pulsar) that spins 30 times a second. Until recently, all of the Crab's high-energy emissions were thought to be the result of physical processes near the pulsar that tapped into this rapid spin.

For decades, most astronomers regarded the Crab Nebula as the steadiest beacon at X-ray energies. But data from several orbiting instruments -- including Fermi's Monitor -- now show unexpected variations. Astronomers have shown that since 2008, the nebula has faded by 7 percent at high energies, a reduction likely tied to the environment around its central neutron star.

Since 2007, Fermi and the Italian Space Agency's AGILE satellite have detected several short-lived gamma-ray flares at energies hundreds of times higher than the nebula's observed X-ray variations. In April, the satellites detected two of the most powerful yet recorded.

To account for these "superflares," scientists say that electrons near the pulsar must be accelerated to energies a thousand trillion (1015) times greater than that of visible light -- and far beyond what can be achieved by the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, now the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth.

W44. Another interesting supernova remnant detected by Fermi's LAT is W44. Thought to be about 20,000 years old -- middle-age for a supernova remnant -- W44 is located about 9,800 light-years away in the constellation Aquila. The LAT not only detects this remnant, it actually reveals GeV gamma rays coming from places where the remnant's expanding shock wave is known to be interacting with cold, dense gas clouds.

Such observations are important in solving a long-standing problem in astrophysics: the origin of cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are particles -- mainly protons -- that move through space at nearly the speed of light. Magnetic fields deflect the particles as they race across the galaxy, and this scrambles their paths and masks their origins. Scientists can't say for sure where the highest-energy cosmic rays come from, but they regard as a best bet.

In 1949, the Fermi telescope's namesake, physicist Enrico Fermi, suggested that the highest-energy cosmic rays were accelerated in the magnetic fields of gas clouds. In the decades that followed, astronomers showed that the magnetic fields in the expanding shock wave of a supernova remnant is just about the best location for this process to work.

So far, LAT observations of W44 and several other remnants strongly suggest that the gamma-ray emission arises from accelerated protons as they collide with gas atoms.

V407 Cygni. V407 Cygni is a so-called symbiotic binary system, one that contains a compact white dwarf and a red giant star that has swollen to about 500 times the size of the sun. Lying about 9,000 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the system occasionally flares up when gas from the red giant accumulates on the dwarf's surface and eventually explodes. The event is sometimes called a nova (after a Latin term meaning "new star").

When the system's most recent eruption occurred in March 2010, Fermi's LAT defied expectations and detected the nova as a brilliant source. Scientists simply didn't expect that this type of outburst had the power to produce high-energy gamma rays.

Pulsar PSR J0101-6422. Pulsars -- rapidly rotating neutron stars -- constitute about six percent of the new catalog. In some cases the LAT can detect gamma-ray pulses directly, but in many cases pulses were first found at radio wavelengths based on suspicions that a faint LAT source might be a pulsar. PSR J0101-6422 is located in the southern constellation of Tucana, its quirky name reflecting its position in the sky.

"This pulsar turns out to be a great example of the cooperation between the Fermi team and radio astronomers -- scientists working in widely separated parts of the electromagnetic spectrum," said David Thompson at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who co-led the catalog team.

The Fermi team originally took notice of the object as a fairly bright but unidentified gamma-ray source in an earlier LAT catalog. Because the distribution of gamma-ray energies in the source resembled what is normally seen in pulsars, radio astronomers in Australia took a look at it using their Parkes radio telescope.

Pulsars are neutron stars, compact objects packing more mass than the sun's into a sphere roughly the size of Washington, D.C. Lighthouse-like beams of radiation powered by the pulsar's rapid rotation and strong magnetic field sweep across the sky with every spin, and astronomers can detect these beams if they happen to sweep toward Earth.

The Parkes study found radio signals from a pulsar rotating at nearly 400 times a second -- comparable to the spin of a kitchen blender -- at the same position as the unknown Fermi source. With this information, the LAT team was able to discover that PSR J0101-6422 also blinks in gamma rays at the same incredible rate.

2FGL J0359.5+5410. Fermi scientists don't know what to make of this source, located in the constellation Camelopardalis. It resides near the populous midplane of our galaxy, which increases the chance that it's actually an object in the Milky Way. While its gamma-ray spectrum resembles that of a pulsar, pulsations have not been detected and it isn't associated with a known object at other wavelengths.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Active galaxies called blazars make up the largest class of objects detected by Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT). Massive black holes in the hearts of these galaxies fire particle jets in our direction. Fermi team member Elizabeth Hays narrates this quick tour of blazars, which includes LAT movies showing how rapidly their emissions can change. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

The top five sources beyond our galaxy are:

Centaurus A. The giant elliptical galaxy NGC 5128 is located 12 million light-years away in the southern constellation Centaurus. One of the closest active galaxies, it hosts the bright radio source designated Cen A. Much of the radio emission arises from million-light-year-wide lobes of gas hurled out by the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center.

Fermi's LAT detects high-energy gamma rays from an extended region around the galaxy that corresponds to the radio-emitting lobes. The radio emission comes from fast-moving particles. When a lower-energy photon collides with one of these particles, the photon receives a kick that boosts its energy into the gamma-ray regime. It's a process that sounds more like billiards than astrophysics, but Fermi's LAT shows that it's happening in Cen A.

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31). At a distance of 2.5 million light-years, the Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest spiral galaxy, one of similar size and structure as our own Milky Way. Easily visible to the naked eye in a dark sky, it's also a favorite target of sky gazers.

The LAT team expected to detect M31 because it's so similar to our own galaxy, where a bright band of diffuse emission creates the most prominent feature in the gamma-ray sky. These gamma rays are mostly produced when high-energy cosmic rays smash into the gas between the stars.

"It took two years of LAT observations to detect M31," said Jürgen Knödlseder at the Research Institute for Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France. Currently a visiting scientist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, he worked on the M31 study. "We concluded that the Andromeda Galaxy has fewer cosmic rays than our own Milky Way, probably because M31 forms stars -- including those that die as supernovae, which help produce cosmic rays -- more slowly than our galaxy."

The Cigar Galaxy (M82). What works for the Andromeda Galaxy works even better for M82, a so-called starburst galaxy that is also a favorite of amateur astronomers. M82 is located 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.

M82's central region forms young stars at a rate some 10 times higher than the Milky Way does, activity that also guarantees a high rate of supernovae as the most short-lived stars come to explosive ends. Eventually, M82's superpowered star formation will subside as the gas needed to make new stars is consumed, but that may be tens of millions of years in the future. For now, it's a bright source of gamma rays for Fermi.

Blazar PKS 0537-286. At the core of an active galaxy is a massive black hole that drives jets of particles moving near the speed of light. Astronomers call the galaxy a blazar when one of these jets is pointed our way -- the best view for seeing dramatic flares as conditions change within the jet.

PKS 0537-286 is a variable blazar in the constellation Leo and the second most distant LAT object. Astronomers have determined that the galaxy lies at a redshift of 3.1, more than 11.7 billion light-years away. (Expressed more precisely, the blazar's gamma-ray photons have been traveling for at least 11.7 billion years before being detected by Fermi's LAT).

The blazar is the farthest active galaxy in the Fermi catalog to show variability. Astronomers are witnessing changes in the jet powered by this galaxy's supermassive black hole that occurred when the universe was just 2 billion years old, or 15 percent of its current age.

2FGL J1305.0+1152. The last item is another mystery object, one located in the constellation Virgo and high above our galaxy's midplane. It remains faint even after two years of LAT observations.

One clue to classifying these objects lies in their gamma-ray spectrum -- that is, the relative number of gamma rays seen at different energies. At some energy, the spectra of many objects display what astronomers call a "spectral break," that is, a greater-than-expected drop-off in the number of seen at increasing energies.

If this were a pulsar, it would show a fast cutoff at higher energies. Many blazars exhibit much more gradual cutoffs. But 2FGL J1305.0+1152 shows no evidence of a spectral break at all, leaving its nature -- for the time being, anyway -- a true mystery.

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2.5 / 5 (11) Sep 09, 2011
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the story.

I am delighted to see observations again taking precedence over models!

Nothing but good can come from this approach to science.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
1.4 / 5 (17) Sep 09, 2011
"What is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of our new catalog is the large number of sources not associated with objects detected at any other wavelength," Tosti noted.

Amazing! Neutron repulsion [1] powers the cosmos, with or without a glowing ball of waste products like the photosphere (91% H and 9% He) that hides our Sun's pulsar core.

To understand observations from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, please

1. Start with Nature's acknowledgment in 1983 that the standard model for the Solar System's birth is wrong:


2. Then look at experimental data [1], suppressed for four decades to promote the:

a.) AGW model of Earth's climate,
b.) SSM model of Earth's heat source, and
c.) Yukawa model of interactions between fundamental nuclear particles.

[1]"Neutron Repulsion", The APEIRON Journal, in press (2011)

Good luck!
5 / 5 (3) Sep 09, 2011
How strange that neutrino counts only match non-neutron-core models...
1.4 / 5 (10) Sep 10, 2011
How strange that neutrino counts only match non-neutron-core models...

Yes, how very, very strange, . . .

One hundred and seventy-eight (178) scientists at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory unanimously reported that they had discovered . . .

Solar neutrinos just oscillate away - exactly as needed to make solar neutrino counts match the SSM model of a hydrogen-filled Sun . . .

Only a few months after it was reported at the 2011 Lunar Science Conference that neutron repulsion in the solar core solved the long standing solar neutrino puzzle [1].

1. "The Sun's origin, composition and source of energy", 32nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conf., Houston, TX, March 12-16, 2001, LPI Contribution 1080, Paper 1041


not rated yet Sep 10, 2011
Could gamma rays from nuclear devices be detected and distinguished from natural sources? If so, we might be able to use the data in a remodeled Drake equation.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 10, 2011
Could gamma rays from nuclear devices be detected and distinguished from natural sources? If so, we might be able to use the data in a remodeled Drake equation.

Not enough flux, not by a long shot.
2 / 5 (12) Sep 10, 2011
Consensus "scientific" models:

a.) The Evolutionary model of life
b.) The AGW model of Earth's climate
c.) The Big Bang model of the Universe
d.) The SSM model of Earth's heat source
e.) The Nebular model of origin of the Solar System
f.) The Yukawa model of interactions between neutrons and protons
g.) Solar neutrinos that magically oscillate away when too embarrassing

Are like Bernanke's model of economics - inconsistent with reality [1-4]!


1. "The demise of established dogmas on the formation of the Solar System", Nature 303 (1983) 286


2. "Is the Universe expanding?", Journal of Cosmology 13, 4187-4190 (2011).


3. "Origin and evolution of life", The Journal of Modern Physics 2, 587-594 (2011)

4. "Neutron repulsion", The APEIRON Journal, in press (2011)
4.4 / 5 (7) Sep 10, 2011
Your stubborn refusal to acknowledge neutrino oscillation, since it has also been verified with artificial neutrino sources, betrays the roots of your "theory" as being a fanatical obsession, not as the logical construction of a model to best explain observations.
1.7 / 5 (11) Sep 10, 2011
Your stubborn refusal to acknowledge neutrino oscillation, . . .

Time will tell who has been hiding and avoiding data.

Here is a summary [1] of experimental observations that were "overlooked" to promote unscientific government dogma that:

a.) CO2 caused Earth's climate to change
b.) Earth's heat source is steady H-fusion

Hiding evidence against the AGW and SSM models reflects a dangerous unwillingness to admit that scientists and world leaders are totally powerless over Nature (Cause and Effect, Coincidence, God).

Eisenhower foresaw this potential damage to society from abuse of science in 1961 [2].

The impending sense of world doom may not be relieved unless we find a peaceful way to end the abuse of science and restore:

- Integrity to government science, and
- Control over government to citizens.

1. Neutron repulsion", The APEIRON Journal, in press (2011)

2. Eisenhower's 1961 farewell
not rated yet Sep 11, 2011
Speaking of the Drake equation, I wonder how all these gamma ray sources affect the space available for life. Seems like living next to a thousand trillion eV energy source would not be good for your health.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2011
Seems like living next to a thousand trillion eV energy source would not be good for your health.

Certainly not for my health. But why anthropomorphize? For the health of those beings who feed on trillions of eV energies it might be fun.
Nothing said about falsifiability of their existence, however.
1 / 5 (6) Sep 11, 2011
We are protected from irradiation emitted by the Sun's pulsar core by:

a.) A solar mantle made mostly of Fe, O, Ni, Si, S, Mg and Ca
b.) A solar photosphere made mostly of waste products (H and He)
c.) Distance from the Sun

See links to references 1-4, above.

d.) Earth's atmosphere

1. Earth's climate has changed and is changing.

2. The Sun has evolved and is evolving.

3. Life has evolved and is evolving

1 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2011
My question in this mapping is why is the (arbitrarily defined) north, or up, more diffused than the south of the center of the image? What is transpiring that would develop such an unbalanced gamma ray distribution so it resembles a bowl rather than a plate?
not rated yet Sep 12, 2011
All good remarks we need to stop and remember what forces there are up there does effect our earth and mother nature.Which brings me to the point of nature ? and evolution we will never control but what we find in the studying of it is amazing keep the good work up
1 / 5 (4) Sep 12, 2011
Sub:Cosmological Index
You are coming-up with a wide area and my compliments.
A request to provide data- observational as it is. please do not super-impose Black-hole psychology or Big-Bang if you expect Science to progress.Science to catch-up through
Source,Fields,Flows,Reflectrors and protective Idex in search of prime concepts.apears that many aspects are not covered at all. see BOOKS BY VIDYARDHI NANDURI [1993-2011]-
http://vidyardhic...spot.com or search Cosmology vedas Interlinks
1 / 5 (4) Sep 24, 2011
Gamma ray and x-ray photons are the least energetic of all photons. It is their small size that allows them to penitrate matter and detectors, not thir energy level. Gamma ray bursts occur when high energy infrared photons strike the gamma photons at some distance from the light emitting object, where the gamma photons can exist in cold space. When the object is a black hole or white dwarf, the gamma photons can exist much closer.
5 / 5 (2) Sep 27, 2011

Out of the wildest sort of curiosity can you support any of that apparent nonsense you posted. Or was it some bizarre attempt to make Oliver look better by you being even more idiotic? NOTHING in your post even remotely fits ANY evidence whatsoever. The words are all real and the grammar is correct yet it makes no sense at all.

You have two posts so far and both are contrary to reality.

1 / 5 (1) Oct 07, 2011
They're only contrary to what scientist's believe is reality. Yes I do have evidense to back it up, and almost every statement that astropyhsicist make about gamma rays only solidify my certainty. Gamma ray bursts release more energy in seconds than the sun does in it's ten billion year lifetime. Have you ever heard anything so rediculous.
X-rays can be created by peeling scotch tape from a roll in a vacuum. High energy indeed!

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