Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope has just crossed a new electromagnetic frontier and detected unknown objects producing gamma rays.
According to new reports from astronomers, about a third of the new sources remain unidentified for the moment and they
are not associated with any know objects producing so much gamma rays.
"Fermi is picking up crazy energetic photons and it is detecting so many of them that we have been able to produce a first all sky map of the
very high energy Universe, " Dave Thomson explains.
"This is what the sky looks like near the very edge of the electromagnetic spectrum, between 10 billion and 100 billion electron volts."
The light we see with human eyes consists of photons with energies in the range 2 to 3 electron volts.
The gamma-rays Fermi detects are billions of times more energetic, from 20 million to more than 300 billion electron volts.
These gamma-ray photons are so energetic, they cannot be guided by the mirrors and lenses found in ordinary telescopes.
Instead Fermi uses a sensor that is more like a Geiger counter than a telescope.
If we could wear Fermi's gamma ray "glasses," we'd witness powerful bullets of energy - individual gamma rays - from cosmic phenomena such as
supermassive black holes and hypernova explosions. The sky would be a frenzy of activity.
Before Fermi was launched in June 2008, there were only four known celestial sources of photons in this energy range.
"In 3 years Fermi has found almost 500 more," says Thompson.
What lies within this new realm?
"Mystery, for one thing," says Thompson. "About a third of the new sources can't be clearly linked to any of the known
types of objects that produce gamma rays. We have no idea what they are."
The rest have one thing in common: prodigious energy.
"Among them are super massive black holes
called blazars; the seething remnants of supernova explosions; and rapidly
rotating neutron stars called pulsars."
And some of the gamma rays seem to come from the 'Fermi bubbles' - giant structures emanating from the Milky Way's
center and spanning some 20,000 light years above and below the galactic plane.
Exactly how these bubbles formed is another mystery.
Now that the first sky map is complete, Fermi is working on another, more sensitive and detailed survey.
"In the next few years, Fermi should reveal something new about all of these phenomena, what makes them tick, and
why they generate such 'unearthly' levels of energy," says David Paneque, a leader in this work from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
For now, though, there are more unknowns than knowns about "Fermi's world. It's pretty exciting," says Thompson.
Fermi will continue to explore the edge of the electromagnetic spectrum and on its way the telescope will most likely encounter more mysteries.
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