Space is definitely the biggest mystery humanity will ever face. It’s basically endless, constantly expanding, and our lack of space travel technology makes it almost impossible to figure out. But we have come up with technology that, despite our limitations, allows us to find out more about what lies out there. So, ancient gamma radiation was detected by VERITAS coming from a galaxy far, far away.
- VERITAS consists of four 12 meter Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov Telescopes
- Each individual telescope has 350 mirrors on each dish
- A blazar is a compact energy source fueled by supermassive black holes, with jets of plasma being propelled from it at nearly the speed of light
- Even blazars 9 billion light years away can be detected from Earth
This April, a very powerful burst of high energy gamma rays was detected hitting the Earth’s atmosphere. This produced a cascade of light so powerful, that scientists were able to determine that the energy travelled for roughly half the age of the Universe, only to eventually splatter against out atmosphere. The origin appears to be a very, very distant galaxy.
The galaxy, known as PKS 1441+25, is what scientists call a blazar. Blazars are extremely bright galaxies that, powered by a supermassive black hole at their center, squirt rays of extremely high energy plasma through space, travelling at nearly the speed of light.
The powerful gamma radiation that hit Earth in April was the highest level of energy ever detected to do so.
One of the weirdest things about the event was that the jets were recorded to be originating from surprisingly far away from the black hole, most likely 5 light years away from it. This means that the region of the galaxy emitting the jets is atypically large for the type of galaxy.
Using the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) and the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, the scientists were able to determine the trajectory of the beam of energy, and it was quite impressive all on its own.
The energy wave contained gamma radiation, which is made out of light particles charged with very high frequency energy. When that type of particle hits a different, lower energy particle, it tends to dissipate.
In order for the energy wave to hit Earth’s atmosphere, it had to ride through space at the speed of light for 7.6 billion light-years, without touching anything else that might have dispelled it.
You can watch NASA’s explanation of the phenomenon in the video below.