The team believes the Vela pulsar emitted 20 TeVs of radiation energy. (Image Credit: Science Communication Lab for DESY)
On October 5th, scientists revealed that High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) data shows the Vela Pulsar released a staggering amount of radiation energy --- 20 teraelectronvolts (TeVs) --- the highest ever recorded! That's approximately 200 times more powerful than the average pulsar. Their findings could have new physics implications from pulsars.
As we already know, pulsars are dead stars that explode in a supernova. These dead stars have a 20-kilometer diameter and a huge magnetic field. "These dead stars consist almost entirely of neutrons and are incredibly dense: a teaspoon of their material weighs more than five billion tons, which is about 900 times the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza," says H.E.S.S. scientist Emma de Oña Wilhelmi from DESY, co-author of the publication.
While Vela is a standard pulsar rotating eleven times per second, it's a crucial object to observe due to its proximity to Earth in cosmetic terms. We usually see pulsars releasing radiation energy under tens of gigaelectronvolts (GeV) and rarely in TeVs. For example, the Crab Pulsar, found over 6,000 light years away from Earth, released approximately 1 TeV of radiation energy. Some researchers estimated that Vela would emit TeVs worth of energy, but it took everyone by surprise once they realized it emits 20 TeVs.
The team also discovered the high-energy photons in Vela correspond to a new spectral element of pulsars. In this case, the spectrum is a visual representation of the pulsar's varying light intensities and energies it releases. Taking that into account, the researchers saw it exhibited a drastically rising pattern and break between the lower-level emissions and TeV emissions. In other words, the extremely energetic photons weren't evolving due to the lower-energy photons that grew before achieving TeV levels.
"This result questions our previous knowledge of Pulsare and requires rethinking the theory of how these natural accelerators work," says Arache Djannati-Atai of the astroparticle and cosmology laboratory APC in France, who led the research. "The traditional scheme of accelerating the particles along the magnetic field lines inside or slightly outside the magnetosphere cannot adequately explain our observations. Perhaps we are witnessing the acceleration of particles by the so-called magnetic reconnection beyond the light cylinder, in which the rotation pattern is still somehow preserved. But even this scenario is difficult to generate such extremely high-energy radiation. "
"This discovery opens a new observation window for the discovery of other pulsars in the area of a few dozen tera electron volts with current and future more sensitive gamma telescopes, paving the way for a better understanding of the extreme acceleration processes in highly magnetized astrophysical objects," says Djannati- Atai.
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