Cassini and Saturn ESA

Cassini Sheds Light on Cosmic Particle Accelerators

By Keith Cowing
Posted February 18, 2013 11:36 AM

During a chance encounter with an unusually strong blast of solar wind arriving at Saturn, the international Cassini spacecraft detected particles being accelerated to ultra-high energies, similar to the acceleration that takes place around supernova explosions.

Shock waves are commonplace in the Universe, for example in the aftermath of a stellar explosion as debris accelerates outwards in a supernova remnant, or when the flow of particles from the Sun – the solar wind – impinges on the magnetic field of a planet to form a bow shock.

Under certain magnetic field orientations and depending on the strength of the shock, particles can be accelerated to close to the speed of light at these boundaries. Indeed, very strong shocks at young supernova remnants are known to boost electrons to ultra-relativistic energies, and may be the dominant source of cosmic rays, high-energy particles that pervade our Galaxy.

Read more: Cassini Sheds Light on Cosmic Particle Accelerators – SpaceRef.

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