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NuSTAR X-ray telescope shows Eta Carinae source of cosmic rays

4 Jul 2018, 03:18 UTC
NuSTAR X-ray telescope shows Eta Carinae source of cosmic rays
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The Eta Carinae system is made up of two massive stars that produce powerful interacting stellar winds. Where they collide, shockwaves are generated that can accelerate electrically charged particles to near light speed, spawning cosmic rays that likely reach Earth. Image: NASA
Data from NASA’s NuSTAR X-ray telescope indicates Eta Carinae, the brightest, most massive star system within 10,000 light years of Earth, is generating high-energy cosmic rays by accelerating electrically charged particles to nearly the speed of light that then crash into and energize starlight.
Cosmic rays with energies greater than one billion electron volts routinely enter the solar system from interstellar space, but the trajectories of such high-speed electrons, protons and atomic nuclei are scrambled by their passage through magnetic fields. But at least some of those cosmic rays apparently originate in the Eta Carinae system.
Located some 7,500 light years from Earth, Eta Carinae is made of two stars containing 90 and 30 times the mass of the Sun that pass within 225 million kilometres (140 million miles) of each other every five-and-a-half years. The star system famously brightened in 1843, briefly becoming the second brightest “star” in the sky.
“Both of Eta Carinae’s stars drive powerful ...

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