Scientists detect gamma rays coming from distant galactic sources

The High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) observatory, Mexico, detected gamma rays coming from distant galactic sources.

The High Altitude Water Cherenkov has detected gamma rays from distant galactic sources such as the Crab Nebula, Geminga, Orion and Markarian 421.

“How relativity behaves at very high energies has real consequences for the world around us,” said Pat Harding, an astrophysicist in the Neutron Science and Technology group at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a member of the HAWC scientific collaboration.

Harding continued: “Most quantum gravity models say the behaviour of relativity will break down at very high energies. Our observation of such high-energy photons at all raises the energy scale where relativity holds by more than a factor of a hundred.”

Proving Lorentz Invariance

These findings could prove the robustness of Lorentz Invariance, a part of Einstein’s theory of relativity that predicts the speed of light is constant everywhere in the universe.

Lorentz Invariance is a key part of the Standard Model of physics. Beyond the Standard Model, many theories about physics suggest that Lorentz Invariance may not hold at the highest energies. If Lorentz Invariance is violated several exotic phenomena will become possibilities.

The HAWC Gamma Ray Observatory has recently detected a number of astrophysical sources which produce photons above 100 TeV (a trillion times the energy of visible light), much higher energy than is available from any earthly accelerator. HAWC extends the range that Lorentz Invariance holds by a factor of 100 times because it sees these gamma rays.

“Detections of even higher-energy gamma rays from astronomical distances will allow more stringent the checks on relativity. As HAWC continues to take more data in the coming years and incorporate Los Alamos-led improvements to the detector and analysis techniques at the highest energies, we will be able to study this physics even further,” said Harding.

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