Mysterious bursts of high energy particles from far out in the Milky Way Galaxy have so many unusual characteristics that scientists say they cannot easily be explained by standard theories of physics.
The beams of energy may signal the presence of a new type of elementary particle never before detected, scientists said Thursday.A team of astrophysicists said the beam is coming from the neutron-star portion of a double-star system called Hercules X-1 in the constellation Hercules, about a fourth of the way across the galaxy.
The other half of the star system, they said, is a star similar to our sun. But the neutron star from which the beam is coming has a mass nearly double that of our sun.
The scientists describe the star as a spinning magnet, generating large electrical fields and giving off the extremely powerful beam, which has been measured at about 1 million billion volts, about 1,000 times more powerful than the biggest atom smashers.
The beam itself comes in short, powerful bursts of neutral radiation detected by special sensors at observatories throughout the country and at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
"Because the beam is neutral, it is able to come across huge distances in the galaxy through magnetic fields that would have scrambled a charged particle," said Guarang Yodh of the University of California, Irvine.
The newly detected beam is of special interest to scientists because it is so much more powerful than atom smashers on Earth, and because it is suggestive of a new type of behavior for ultra high-energy radiation.
A team of astrophysicists from the Irvine campus, Los Alamos, and the University of Maryland, first detected the amazingly powerful beam early last year and said it is coming from an estimated 15,000 light years away. A light year is about 6 trillion miles.
Since they discovered it, the scientists have been trying to figure out what it is composed of and how it is interacting with Earth.
The scientists will outline their work on the beam in an upcoming issue of the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
Los Alamos physicist Darragh Nagle, one of the primary investigators on the project, said the beam has so many unusual properties that it cannot be easily explained by standard theories of physics.