A team of international scientists have confirmed the source of ultra high-energy cosmic rays that beam to Earth from space, according to a new study published in the journal Science
Occasionally, our planet gets hit with protons and atomic nuclei that shoot out of space with energy so high that scientists cannot replicate it. Researchers first discovered those “cosmic rays” over 100 years ago, but they never knew where they came from until now.
In the new study, the team combined data from light and a single high-energy neutrino particle and found that the rays originate from a blazar — a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy.
That discovery could open up new insight into the universe and provide a brand new way to study the cosmos.
“We have been looking for the sources of cosmic rays for more than a century, and we finally found one,” study co-author Francis Halzen, lead scientist at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory and a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Space.com.
This finding came about when the IceCube detector at the South Pole spotted a neutrino particle that had an incredible amount of energy. The detector’s computers quickly calculated where it came from and sent the coordinates to astronomers across the globe.
Six days later, the Fermi Large Area Telescope found a distant blazer known as TXS 0506+056 in the same spot.
Further research showed the blazar is able to produce high-energy protons and nuclei, which then creates neutrinos. In that way, it can create the ultra high-energy cosmic rays that have eluded astronomers for the past century.
That is an exciting discovery, but it is just one source. As a result, more research needs to be done to explain all cosmic rays and how they get made.
“We clearly need more data. One source is not enough,” study co-author Spencer Klein, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, told Gizmodo. “Now that we found one accelerator, we’d like to find more and find out how they work.”