Scientists have made a ground-breaking discovery: our sun is generating an unprecedented amount of gamma rays, the electromagnetic radiation with the highest energy of all the wavelengths. This is significant because it is the most intense radiation yet detected originating from the star that supports our planet.
To be precise, about 1 trillion electron volts.
Meher Un Nisa, a postdoctoral research associate at Michigan State University and co-author of a new report about the discoveries published Wednesday (Aug. 3), stated in a statement that “after looking at six years’ worth of data, out popped this excess of gamma rays.” We immediately thought, “We definitely messed this up,” upon seeing it. But after some thought, the researchers concluded that the brightness they had observed was true, and it was merely the result of the sun’s apparent excess of gamma rays.
The possible significance of the sun’s magnetic field
Nisa said, “The sun is more startling than we realized. We cannot be harmed by these rays, so stop worrying. However, they can have a significant impact on solar physics in the long run.” In fact, they have already brought up several significant issues with the sun, such as what possible significance the sun’s magnetic field may have in the recently discovered gamma-ray phenomenon. Solar radiation are usually limited to infrared, ultraviolet, and visible wavelengths.
It’s all because of the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory, or HAWC, a special telescope on the universe. This observatory, which was finished in the spring of 2015, was built specifically to observe particles linked to extremely high-energy gamma rays and cosmic rays, the latter of which are equally energetic but also mysterious in that they frequently traverse the universe without exhibiting a distinct starting point.
Ours is always on
Other ground-based telescopes could not observe the sun in this particular energy regime since they operate only at night, according to Nisa. “Ours is always on.” In essence, HAWC operates a network of 300 sizable water tanks, according to a news statement on the new study. These tanks are located between two dormant volcanic peaks in Mexico, more than 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) above sea level, and each one holds roughly 200 metric tonnes of filtered water. All of this cleaned water is necessary because Cherenkov radiation—which you may be familiar with if you’ve watched the television show “Chernobyl”—occurs when high-energy space particles collide with the liquid.
In essence, Cherenkov radiation describes a bluish light that develops when electrically charged particles flow through a specific material at a specific speed. It was named after 1958 Physics Nobel Prize winner Pavel Cherenkov.