Researchers using the Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO) in China have discovered the second highest-energy gamma ray ever detected from the Crab Nebula, which is located 6,523 light years from Earth. More specifically, the photon they found had an energy of 1.1 petaelectronvolts (PeV), or 1.1 million billion electronvolts, which means it most likely came from a high-energy electron in the nebula colliding with a background photon and firing it to this insane energy level. Read more for two videos and additional information.
The Crab Nebula is one of the select few nebulae that has been measured in just about every energy band, whether it be radio, infrared, optical, UV, X-ray, and gamma-ray. This is what scientists would consider a bright and stable high-energy source. By detecting a photon with an energy of 1.1 PeV, it makes the Crab Nebula the most powerful electron accelerator thus far, and can energize electrons to travel 20,000 times greater than the human-made electron accelerator on Earth.
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The gamma rays are nothing special on their own – they are messengers carrying information about the parent electrons that are accelerated. We can make so many important conclusions from just one gamma ray. Particle accelerators are the most sophisticated, complex machines we have ever made. But here, in this chaotic environment, somehow it is an ideal machine reaching the edge of what fundamental physics allows,” said Felix Aharonian at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, Germany.