The Crab Nebula is what was left after a supernova exploded. Discovered almost 1,000 years ago, the Nebula is 6,500 light years from Earth. Like other supernova remnants it emits high-energy light, but unlike other supernova remnants, the level of the Crab Nebula’s cosmic rays, which consist of protons and atomic nuclei, has broken every record.
How are high-energy photons created?
The blast of the supernova created stellar material that was ejected into space with supersonic speed. This stellar material continues to extend for thousands of years until its velocity increasingly slows down.
In the explosion, high-energy photons are created as electrons, which became loaded with high-energy by the blast, crash into photons that have low energy. The electrons transfer their power, and photons become high-energy. These high-energy photons are scattered in the whole universe, some of them reaching Earth.
The highest-powered cosmic rays
Astronomers from Tibet were able to distinguish between the cosmic rays generated by the Crab Nebula and other cosmic particles as they interacted with the particles present in Earth’s atmosphere. These energies have been noticed to approach somewhere between 100 and 450 trillion electron volts (eV); this means that the photons are over 60 times more dynamic than the particles in the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest and most powerful particle collider, which can reach almost 6.5 trillion eV.
Researchers detected these high-energy photons of the Crab Nebula with the help of the Tibet AS Gamma experiment, an air shower observation array. This experiment identifies cosmic rays and the showers they create upon entering Earth’s atmosphere. What researchers must do is to tell the difference between these high-energy photons and other cosmic rays.
After excluding these types of particles, scientists remained with 24 particle showers that they are almost certain were produced by photons with very high energies. What the astronomers want to figure out is in what way these particles become charged with electricity.