NASA Confirms Superstar Eta Carinae Shoots Cosmic Rays to Earth

Mindy Sparks
July 7, 2018

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 almost the speed of light that then crash into and energize starlight.

Through data from NASA's NuSTAR telescope, astronomers confirmed the superstar Eta Carinae has been shooting cosmic rays to Earth. This binary star system is located some 7,500 light-years away, in the Carina constellation, and is made up of two enormous stars with 90 and 30 times the mass of our sun. The system contains a pair of stars much more massive than our Sun and makes the brightest and most massive binary grouping within 10,000 light years of our planet. They pass 140 million miles (225 million km) apart at their closest approach, about the average distance separating Mars and the Sun. It was also found that it is accelerating particles to high energies.

Because they're electrically charged and they change their course under the influence of magnetic fields, the cosmic rays that reach Earth are hard to trace back to their origins.

Due to the space telescope, NASA scientists now know that some of those cosmic rays are coming from Eta Carinae.

Both of the stars are constantly puking out charged particles at extremely high speeds, with the larger star's wind slamming into that of the smaller star, creating massive waves of energy that is being blown out into space.

More importantly, the high-energy X-rays varied with the orbit of the stars and even demonstrated an energy emission pattern similar to the one observed when the gamma rays were detected.

"Both of Eta Carinae's stars drive powerful outflows called stellar winds", Michael Corcoran, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a news release.

The low energy X-rays, as previously suggested, was a result of the collision between hot stellar winds going up to 40 million degrees Celsius, but the "hard" X-rays had energies more than 30,000 electron volts, which is much more than what could be explained by the collision of winds.

It is already well established that cosmic rays with energies greater than 1 billion electron volts (eV) reach Earth from different parts of the cosmos.

Hamaguchi and his colleagues turned to NuSTAR space telescope to bridge the gap between low-energy X-ray monitoring and Fermi observations.

Also, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space telescope had been previously detecting gamma rays that contained X-rays with greater energy compared to other similarly detected gamma rays. Astronomers earlier observed that these unique gamma rays were coming from the direction of Eta Carinae.

To be specific, both the high powered X-rays detected by NuStar and the gamma rays detected by Fermi seemed to be emanating from a binary orbital period. A few likely reach Earth.

Researchers shared their conclusions this week in the journal Nature Astronomy.

"We've known for some time that the region around Eta Carinae is the source of energetic emission in high-energy X-rays and gamma rays", said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR and a professor of astronomy at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "But until NuSTAR was able to pinpoint the radiation... the origin was mysterious".

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