The Eta Carinae gas cloud may be the source of cosmic rays

Eta Carinae erupted in the 1840s accelerating cosmic ray particles to speeds comparable to light.
By Lliane Hunter | Nov 26, 2018
NASA's NuSTAR space telescope has revealed that the famous Eta Carinae star system acts as an accelerator of charged particles, which are also known as cosmic rays. The study shows that thehuge star system, 7,500 light-years away, is shooting out radiation at super high speeds, writes Elizabeth Howell for

The system experienced an outburst in the 19th century, briefly becoming the second brightest object in the sky. Eta Carinae is comprised of an hourglass-shaped gas cloud that contains two massive stars orbiting each other (30 and 90 times the mass of the sun). The cosmic rays shooting from Eta Carinae are highly energetic particles such as electrons, protons and atomic nuclei. Because cosmic rays, orchargedparticles alter and scramble whenever meeting a magnetic field, astronomers aren't sure where they come fromonly that they hail from outside the solar system. However, researchers suspect that the fluctuations in Eta Carinae's radiation output could be one of the sources of cosmic rays.

"Both of Eta Carinae's stars drive powerful outflows called stellar winds," explained Michael Corcoran, a senior research scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center and one of the authors of the research. He adds, that where the winds intersect, there are periodic changes in "soft" or low-energy X-rays.NuSTAR can examine high-energy X-rays that are emitting radiation above 30,000 electron volts (eV). The telescope's observations showed that the variations in these "hard" X-rays have a similar pattern to the gamma-ray fluctuations that NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope observed. NASA explained in a statement that the X-rays detected by NuSTAR come from starlight given a huge energy boost like the particles that escaped Eta Carinae.


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