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New sky map charts previously unknown gamma-ray sources

Supersensitive detector can trace highest energy photons

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2:31pm, April 19, 2016
gamma ray map

BRIGHT SKY  A map of two-thirds of the sky shows bright spots where high energy gamma rays originate, including in the Milky Way (left) as well as nearby galaxies, such as Markarian 421 and Markarian 501. (Constellations are superimposed for orientation.)

SALT LAKE CITY — A new map of the sky charts the origins of some of the highest energy photons ever detected. Researchers from the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory released their first year of observations of gamma rays, ultrahigh-energy light particles blasted in our direction from some of the most extreme environments in the universe.

The researchers found 40 gamma-ray sources, a quarter of which hadn’t previously been identified, they reported April 18 at an American Physical Society meeting. The map is “revealing new information about nature’s particle accelerators,” said Brenda Dingus, a leader of the HAWC collaboration. These accelerators include the relics of dead stars, such as supernova remnants, and active galaxies that shoot out blasts of particles, known as blazars.

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