Washington (DC) – Scientists at NASA reported yesterday that an unidentified source of high energy cosmic radiation has been detected. The standard model of cosmic ray origins does not account for these levels of high energy electrons. NASA believes there may be a previously unidentified source within 3000 light years of Earth, possibly a pulsar, mini-quasar, supernova remnant or an intermediate mass black hole. One alternate theory is that it may be the first recorded instance of decaying exotic particles which are described by dark matter theories.
John P. Wefel, principle investigator for the Advanced Thin Ionizing Calorimeter (ATIC) project, which is a 4,300 pound piece of equipment that will be lofted 124K feet above Antarctica in a balloon the size of a football stadium, said, “This electron excess cannot be explained by the standard model of cosmic ray origin. There must be another source relatively near us that is producing these additional particles.”
A co-worker of Wefel on the ATIC project, Jim Adams of NASA, said, “Cosmic ray electrons lose energy during their journey through the galaxy. These losses increase with the energy of the electrons. At the energies measured by our instrument, these energy losses suppress the flow of particles from distant sources, which helps nearby sources stand out.” The only problem in identifying the source of these close-aboard emitters is there aren’t many nearby sources. And those that are around have already been ruled out.
While the nature of dark matter is not well understood, the researchers are quick to point out several theories which describe how dark matter produces extremely exotic particles. If they are decaying or annihilating each other, that could account for it. Said ATIC project lead from the University of Maryland, Eun-Suk Seo, “The annihilation of these exotic particles with each other would produce normal particles such as electrons, positrons, protons and antiprotons that can be observed by scientists.”
The ATIC project was created to reach high above the Earth’s atmosphere to a point where such particles can be measured. The scientists hope that by finding the source of this cosmic ray radiation, their current theories can either be strengthened or re-written.
Scientists believe that 95% of the mass in the universe is of a form they call dark – so named because of its unknown origins and properties. They believe only five percent of the universe’s mass and energy is of the kind that most of us would identify, such as things which emit electromagnetic radiation and can be easily viewed or detected with traditional equipment.
Scientists believe there is a huge amount of inert-to-EM matter out there called dark matter. It emits a gravitational field, but does little else. Scientists have been looking for a way to study dark matter, as there are several theories which include it in their model. However, to date no true sources of dark matter have ever been observed.
ATIC is a joint collaboration between Louisiana State University, the University of Maryland, Marshal Space Flight Center, China’s Purple Mountain Observatory, Russia’s Moscow State University, Germany’s Max-Planck Institute for Solar System Research, as well as NASA and NASA’s Balloon Program Office at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, as well as the National Science Foundation.
Quick on the heels of the report above came another press release. NASA is reporting that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will team up to study the sources of dark energy in a Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM). According to Jon Morse, director of astrophysics at NASA Headquarters in Washington, “Understanding the nature of dark energy is the biggest challenge in physics and astronomy today. JDEM will be a unique and major contributor in our quest to understand dark energy and how it has shaped the universe in which we live.”
This new program is the first to come out of a report published in 2007 by the Beyond Einstein Program Assessment Committee (BEPAC). The committee was formed in 2006 to categorize the top five mission priorities for NASA research.