Gamma ray universe mapped by spacecraft

Supernova remnants, stellar blasts and black hole jets have revealed themselves in a two-year survey of space gamma rays, report Italian astronomers.

In the upcoming Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A journal report, the AGILE (Astrorivelatore Gamma ad Immagini Leggero) spacecraft team led by Marco Tavani of INAF-IASF Roma report on the achievements of the spacecraft, launched in April of 2007.

“The AGILE scientific instrument is very innovative and compact,” begins the report. In two years of operations, the spacecraft:

  • Mapped gamma rays from the entire sky, particularly sources from our Milky Way galaxy, including powerful bursts from a black hole called Cygnus X-3.
  • Discovered 10 pulsars, rotating neutron stars with powerful magnetic fields that release beams of energy as they rotate.
  • Probed supernova remnants, left overs from exploded stars.
  • Spotted gamma ray bursts from distant stars, although the team says it is still waiting for “the big one” awaited by theorists, hoping to explain these blasts of hard x-rays from deep space.

In November, the spacecraft’s loss of a control wheel led to it entering “spinning mode” mapping the sky as it spun freely. Even operating this way, the team found, “the brightest gamma-ray source of the sky,” the so-called “Crazy Diamond,” blazar, thought to be a jet from a supermassive black hole at the center of a distant galaxy.

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