HEIDELBERG, Germany — Physicists toiling at the Large Hadron Collider now have a heavenly rival. Protons caught between two fierce stellar furnaces are being boosted to energies comparable to those that can be attained at the world’s most powerful atom smasher, a new study suggests.
Felix Aharonian of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg says that it’s plausible that highly energetic protons are producing the energetic gamma rays observed from Eta Carinae. Although he stops short of calling it proof, Aharonian calls the recent recordings “the best observational evidence we have that stellar winds are accelerating protons to high energies.”
The study indicates that collisions between stellar winds are a probable source of the streams of high-speed protons and other energetic charged particles called cosmic rays in the Milky Way. That had long been predicted, but the Eta Carinae emissions provide some of the first tentative proof of that model, Walter said. Other massive star systems, also expected to have strong stellar winds, may also be prime candidates for generating cosmic rays, he added.