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    An array of telescopes in Namibia has pinpointed the origin of some of the most energetic particles the Galaxy can produce. The observations point to a place where particles of matter spewed by a black hole in a region known as the Manatee Nebula are accelerated to near-light-speed.

    The findings, published on 25 January in Science1 by researchers at the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS), are a step forward in the century-old quest to understand the origins of cosmic rays — fast-moving atomic nuclei and other particles that are continually hitting Earth’s upper atmosphere.

    “For people like me who want to model astrophysical jets, including their internal composition, propagation and evolution”, the information produced by HESS is “incredible”, says Sera Markoff, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam.

    Rain from space
    Cosmic rays can have a wide range of energies. The most abundant, lowest-energy cosmic rays consist of particles of solar wind that rain down on Earth’s atmosphere after spiralling in the planet’s magnetic field. Cosmic rays of much higher energies are thought to be produced by supernovae, the explosive deaths of massive stars. And yet-more-energetic cosmic rays originate outside the Galaxy, in particular from quasars — super-massive black holes that produce jets of plasma travelling at near-light-speed. These jets can have energies of up to 8 orders of magnitude higher than those produced in particle accelerators.

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