Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
News Article | May 2, 2017
A mysterious gamma-ray glow at the center of the Milky Way is most likely caused by pulsars – the incredibly dense, rapidly spinning cores of collapsed ancient stars that were up to 30 times more massive than the sun. That’s the conclusion of a new analysis by an international team of astrophysicists, including researchers from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The findings cast doubt on previous interpretations of the signal as a potential sign of dark matter – a form of matter that accounts for 85 percent of all matter in the universe but that so far has evaded detection. “Our study shows that we don’t need dark matter to understand the gamma-ray emissions of our galaxy,” said Mattia Di Mauro from the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), a joint institute of Stanford University and SLAC. “Instead, we have identified a population of pulsars in the region around the galactic center, which sheds new light on the formation history of the Milky Way.” Di Mauro led the analysis for the Fermi LAT Collaboration, an international team of researchers that looked at the glow with the Large Area Telescope (LAT) on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which has been orbiting Earth since 2008. The LAT – a sensitive “eye” for gamma rays, the most energetic form of light – was conceived of and assembled at SLAC, which also hosts its operations center. The collaboration’s findings, submitted to The Astrophysical Journal for publication, are available as a preprint. Dark matter is one of the biggest mysteries of modern physics. Researchers know that dark matter exists because it bends light from distant galaxies and affects how galaxies rotate. But they don’t know what the substance is made of. Most scientists believe it’s composed of yet-to-be-discovered particles that almost never interact with regular matter other than through gravity, making it very hard to detect them. One way scientific instruments might catch a glimpse of dark matter particles is when the particles either decay or collide and destroy each other. “Widely studied theories predict that these processes would produce gamma rays,” said Seth Digel, head of KIPAC’s Fermi group. “We search for this radiation with the LAT in regions of the universe that are rich in dark matter, such as the center of our galaxy.” Previous studies have indeed shown that there are more gamma rays coming from the galactic center than expected, fueling some scientific papers and media reports that suggest the signal might hint at long-sought dark matter particles. However, gamma rays are produced in a number of other cosmic processes, which must be ruled out before any conclusion about dark matter can be drawn. This is particularly challenging because the galactic center is extremely complex, and astrophysicists don’t know all the details of what’s going on in that region. Most of the Milky Way’s gamma rays originate in gas between the stars that is lit up by cosmic rays – charged particles produced in powerful star explosions, called supernovae. This creates a diffuse gamma-ray glow that extends throughout the galaxy. Gamma rays are also produced by supernova remnants, pulsars – collapsed stars that emit “beams” of gamma rays like cosmic lighthouses – and more exotic objects that appear as points of light. “Two recent studies by teams in the U.S. and the Netherlands have shown that the gamma-ray excess at the galactic center is speckled, not smooth as we would expect for a dark matter signal,” said KIPAC’s Eric Charles, who contributed to the new analysis. “Those results suggest the speckles may be due to point sources that we can’t see as individual sources with the LAT because the density of gamma-ray sources is very high and the diffuse glow is brightest at the galactic center.” The new study takes the earlier analyses to the next level, demonstrating that the speckled gamma-ray signal is consistent with pulsars. “Considering that about 70 percent of all point sources in the Milky Way are pulsars, they were the most likely candidates,” Di Mauro said. “But we used one of their physical properties to come to our conclusion. Pulsars have very distinct spectra – that is, their emissions vary in a specific way with the energy of the gamma rays they emit. Using the shape of these spectra, we were able to model the glow of the galactic center correctly with a population of about 1,000 pulsars and without introducing processes that involve dark matter particles.” The team is now planning follow-up studies with radio telescopes to determine whether the identified sources are emitting their light as a series of brief light pulses – the trademark that gives pulsars their name. Discoveries in the halo of stars around the center of the galaxy – the oldest part of the Milky Way – also reveal details about the evolution of our galactic home, just as ancient remains teach archaeologists about human history. “Isolated pulsars have a typical lifetime of 10 million years, which is much shorter than the age of the oldest stars near the galactic center,” Charles said. “The fact that we can still see gamma rays from the identified pulsar population today suggests that the pulsars are in binary systems with companion stars, from which they leach energy. This extends the life of the pulsars tremendously.” The new results add to other data that are challenging the interpretation of the gamma-ray excess as a dark matter signal. “If the signal were due to dark matter, we would expect to see it also at the centers of other galaxies,” Digel said. “The signal should be particularly clear in dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way. These galaxies have very few stars, typically don’t have pulsars and are held together because they have a lot of dark matter. However, we don’t see any significant gamma-ray emissions from them.” The researchers believe that a recently discovered strong gamma-ray glow at the center of the Andromeda galaxy, the major galaxy closest to the Milky Way, may also be caused by pulsars rather than dark matter. But the last word may not have been spoken. Although the Fermi-LAT team studied a large area of 40 degrees by 40 degrees around the Milky Way’s galactic center (the diameter of the full moon is about half a degree), the extremely high density of sources in the innermost four degrees makes it very difficult to see individual ones and rule out a smooth, dark matter-like gamma-ray distribution, leaving limited room for dark matter signals to hide. This work was funded by NASA and the DOE Office of Science, as well as agencies and institutes in France, Italy, Japan and Sweden.
News Article | May 11, 2017
On April 12, one of the spacecraft's instruments – the Large Area Telescope (LAT), which was conceived of and assembled at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory – detected its billionth extraterrestrial gamma ray. Since gamma rays are often produced in violent processes, their observation sheds light on extreme cosmic environments, such as powerful star explosions, high-speed particle jets spewed out by supermassive black holes, and ultradense neutron stars spinning unimaginably fast. Gamma rays could also be telltale signs of dark matter particles – hypothetical components of invisible dark matter, which accounts for 85 percent of all matter in the universe. "Since Fermi's launch in 2008, the LAT has made a number of important discoveries of gamma-ray emissions from exotic sources in our galaxy and beyond," says Robert Cameron, head of the LAT Instrument Science Operations Center (ISOC) at SLAC. The LAT has already collected hundreds of times more gamma rays than the previous-generation EGRET instrument on NASA's Compton Gamma-ray Observatory – an advance that has tremendously deepened insights into the production of this energetic radiation. Among the LAT discoveries are more than 200 pulsars – rapidly rotating, highly magnetized cores of collapsed stars that were up to 30 times more massive than the sun. Before Fermi's launch, only seven of these objects were known to emit gamma rays. As pulsars spin around their axis, they emit "beams" of gamma rays like cosmic lighthouses. Many pulsars rotate several hundred times per second – that's tens of millions times faster than Earth's rotation. "Understanding pulsars tells us about the evolution of stars because they are one possible end point in a star's life," Cameron says. "The LAT data have led us to totally revise our understanding of how pulsars emit gamma rays." The LAT has also shown for the first time that novae – thermonuclear explosions on the surface of stars that have accumulated material from neighboring stars – can emit gamma rays. These data provide new details about the physics of burning stars, which is a crucial process for the synthesis of chemical elements in the universe. Even more exotic gamma-ray sources detected by the LAT are microquasars. These objects are star-sized analogs of active galactic nuclei, with gas spinning around a black hole at the center. As the black hole devours matter from its surroundings, it ejects jets of charged particles traveling almost as fast as light into space, generating beams of gamma rays in the process. At a galactic scale, such an ejection mechanism could have produced what is known as the Fermi bubbles – two giant areas above and below the center of the disk of our Milky Way galaxy that shine in gamma rays. Discovered by the LAT in 2010, these bubbles suggest that the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy once was more active than it is today. Researchers also use the LAT to search for signs of dark matter particles in the central regions of the Milky Way and other galaxies. Theories predict that the hypothetical particles would produce gamma rays when they decay or collide and destroy each other. "With the sensitivity we have achieved with the LAT, we should in principle be able to see such dark matter signatures," says SLAC's Seth Digel, who leads the Fermi group at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), a joint institute of Stanford University and SLAC. "But we haven't found any conclusive signals yet, and so far the LAT data can also be explained with other astrophysical sources." Finally, the LAT has explored gamma ray sources closer to home, including gamma rays produced by thunderstorms in Earth's atmosphere, by solar flares and even by charged particles hitting the surface of the moon. From its location on Fermi at an altitude of 330 miles, the LAT sees 20 percent of the sky at any given time. Every two orbits – each takes about 95 minutes – the instrument collects the data necessary for a gamma-ray map of the entire sky. But identifying the right signals for the map is a little bit like finding needles in a haystack: For every gamma-ray photon, the LAT sees many more high-energy charged particles, called cosmic rays. Most of these background signals are rejected right away by hardware triggers and software filters in the LAT on Fermi, which reduces the rate of signals from 10,000 to 400 per second. The remaining data are compressed, transmitted back to Earth and sent to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where they get separated into three different datasets for the LAT, the GBM (Fermi's second scientific instrument, which monitors short-lived gamma-ray bursts) and spacecraft data. The LAT data are transferred to the LAT ISOC at SLAC, where 1,000 computer cores automatically analyze the data stream and filter out even more background signals. 70 percent of all detected gamma rays are from Earth's atmosphere, leaving only two to three extraterrestrial gamma-ray signals per second out of the 10,000 initial detector events. These data are then sent back to NASA Goddard, where they are made publicly available for further analysis. "The ISOC receives about 15 deliveries of LAT data throughout the day for a total of 16 gigabytes or three DVDs worth of data every day," Cameron says. "For each delivery, the entire process – from the time the data leave Fermi to the time the gamma rays get deposited in the public archive – takes about four hours." Next year, the Fermi mission will reach its 10-year operations goal. What happens after that will largely depend on funding. "With no successor mission planned, the LAT is in many ways irreplaceable, particularly for studies of low-energy gamma rays," Digel says. "The telescope is still going strong after all these years, and there is a lot of science left to be done." An important new role for the LAT is to search for gamma-ray sources associated with gravitational wave events. These ripples in space-time occur, for example, when two black holes merge into a single one, as recently observed by the LIGO detector. This opens up the completely new field of gravitational wave astrophysics. The LAT ISOC is a department in KIPAC and the Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology Division of SLAC. KIPAC researchers contribute to the international Fermi LAT Collaboration, whose research is funded by NASA and the DOE Office of Science, as well as agencies and institutes in France, Italy, Japan and Sweden. Explore further: Origin of Milky Way's hypothetical dark matter signal may not be so dark
Desmond H.,Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology |
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society | Year: 2017
We use the mass discrepancy-acceleration relation (the correlation between the ratio of totalto- visible mass and acceleration in galaxies; MDAR) to test the galaxy-halo connection. We analyse the MDAR using a set of 16 statistics that quantify its four most important features: shape, scatter, the presence of a 'characteristic acceleration scale', and the correlation of its residuals with other galaxy properties. We construct an empirical framework for the galaxy- halo connection inLCDMto generate predictions for these statistics, startingwith conventional correlations (halo abundance matching;AM)and introducing more where required. Comparing to the SPARC data, we find that: (1) the approximate shape of the MDAR is readily reproduced by AM, and there is no evidence that the acceleration at which dark matter becomes negligible has less spread in the data than in AM mocks; (2) even under conservative assumptions, AM significantly overpredicts the scatter in the relation and its normalization at low acceleration, and furthermore positions dark matter too close to galaxies' centres on average; (3) the MDAR affords 2σ evidence for an anticorrelation of galaxy size and Hubble type with halo mass or concentration at fixed stellar mass. Our analysis lays the groundwork for a bottomup determination of the galaxy-halo connection from relations such as the MDAR, provides concrete statistical tests for specific galaxy formationmodels, and brings into sharper focus the relative evidence accorded by galaxy kinematics to LCDM and modified gravity alternatives. © 2016 The Authors. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Allen S.W.,Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology |
Allen S.W.,SLAC |
Evrard A.E.,University of Michigan |
Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics | Year: 2011
Studies of galaxy clusters have proved crucial in helping to establish the standard model of cosmology, with a Universe dominated by dark matter and dark energy. A theoretical basis that describes clusters as massive, multicomponent, quasi-equilibrium systems is growing in its capability to interpret multiwavelength observations of expanding scope and sensitivity. We review current cosmological results, including contributions to fundamental physics, obtained from observations of galaxy clusters. These results are consistent with and complementary to those from other methods. We highlight several areas of opportunity for the next few years, and emphasize the need for accurate modeling of survey selection and sources of systematic error. Capitalizing on these opportunities will require a multiwavelength approach and the application of rigorous statistical frameworks, utilizing the combined strengths of observers, simulators, and theorists. © 2011 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.
Zrake J.,Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
Astrophysical Journal Letters | Year: 2014
The free decay of nonhelical relativistic magnetohydrodynamic turbulence is studied numerically, and found to exhibit cascading of magnetic energy toward large scales. Evolution of the magnetic energy spectrum PM(k, t) is self-similar in time and well modeled by a broken power law with subinertial and inertial range indices very close to 7/2 and -2, respectively. The magnetic coherence scale is found to grow in time as t2/5, much too slow to account for optical polarization of gamma-ray burst afterglow emission if magnetic energy is to be supplied only at microphysical length scales. No bursty or explosive energy loss is observed in relativistic MHD turbulence having modest magnetization, which constrains magnetic reconnection models for rapid time variability of GRB prompt emission, blazars, and the Crab nebula. © 2014. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.
Kerr M.,Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
Astrophysical Journal | Year: 2011
All γ-ray telescopes suffer from source confusion due to their inability to focus incident high-energy radiation, and the resulting background contamination can obscure the periodic emission from faint pulsars. In the context of the Fermi Large Area Telescope, we outline enhanced statistical tests for pulsation in which each photon is weighted by its probability to have originated from the candidate pulsar. The probabilities are calculated using the instrument response function and a full spectral model, enabling powerful background rejection. With Monte Carlo methods, we demonstrate that the new tests increase the sensitivity to pulsars by more than 50% under a wide range of conditions. This improvement may appreciably increase the completeness of the sample of radio-loud γ-ray pulsars. Finally, we derive the asymptotic null distribution for the H-test, expanding its domain of validity to arbitrarily complex light curves. © 2011. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.
Buhler R.,German Electron Synchrotron |
Blandford R.,Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
Reports on Progress in Physics | Year: 2014
The Crab nebula and its pulsar (referred to together as 'the Crab') have historically played a central role in astrophysics. True to this legacy, several unique discoveries have been made recently. The Crab was found to emit gamma-ray pulsations up to energies of 400 GeV, beyond what was previously expected from pulsars. Strong gamma-ray flares, of durations of a few days, were discovered from within the nebula, while the source was previously expected to be stable in flux on these time scales. Here we review these intriguing and suggestive developments. In this context we give an overview of the observational properties of the Crab and our current understanding of pulsars and their nebulae. © 2014 IOP Publishing Ltd.
Kocevski D.,Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
Astrophysical Journal | Year: 2012
I investigate the origin of the observed correlation between a gamma-ray burst's (GRB's) νF ν spectral peak E pk and its isotropic equivalent energy E iso through the use of a population synthesis code to model the prompt gamma-ray emission from GRBs. By using prescriptions for the distribution of prompt spectral parameters as well as the population's luminosity function and comoving rate density, I generate a simulated population of GRBs and examine how bursts of varying spectral properties and redshift would appear to a gamma-ray detector here on Earth. I find that a strong observed correlation can be produced between the source frame E pk and E iso for the detected population despite the existence of only a weak and broad correlation in the original simulated population. The energy dependance of a gamma-ray detector's flux-limited detection threshold acts to produce a correlation between the source frame E pk and E iso for low-luminosity GRBs, producing the left boundary of the observed correlation. Conversely, very luminous GRBs are found at higher redshifts than their low-luminosity counterparts due to the standard Malquest bias, causing bursts in the low E pk, high E iso regime to go undetected because their E pk values would be redshifted to energies at which most gamma-ray detectors become less sensitive. I argue that it is this previously unexamined effect which produces the right boundary of the observed correlation. Therefore, the origin of the observed correlation is a complex combination of the instrument's detection threshold, the intrinsic cutoff in the GRB luminosity function, and the broad range of redshifts over which GRBs are detected. Although the GRB model presented here is a very simplified representation of the complex nature of GRBs, these simulations serve to demonstrate how selection effects caused by a combination of instrumental sensitivity and the cosmological nature of an astrophysical population can act to produce an artificially strong correlation between observed properties. © 2012. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.
Strigari L.E.,Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
Physics Reports | Year: 2013
For nearly a century, more mass has been measured in galaxies than is contained in the luminous stars and gas. Through continual advances in observations and theory, it has become clear that the dark matter in galaxies is not comprised of known astronomical objects or baryonic matter, and that identification of it is certain to reveal a profound connection between astrophysics, cosmology, and fundamental physics. The best explanation for dark matter is that it is in the form of a yet undiscovered particle of nature, with experiments now gaining sensitivity to the most well-motivated particle dark matter candidates. In this article, I review measurements of dark matter in the Milky Way and its satellite galaxies and the status of Galactic searches for particle dark matter using a combination of terrestrial and space-based astroparticle detectors, and large scale astronomical surveys. I review the limits on the dark matter annihilation and scattering cross sections that can be extracted from both astroparticle experiments and astronomical observations, and explore the theoretical implications of these limits. I discuss methods to measure the properties of particle dark matter using future experiments, and conclude by highlighting the exciting potential for dark matter searches during the next decade, and beyond. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.
Abel T.,Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society | Year: 2011
We suggest a novel discretization of the momentum equation for smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) and show that it significantly improves the accuracy of the obtained solutions. Our new formulation which we refer to as relative pressure SPH, rpSPH, evaluates the pressure force with respect to the local pressure. It respects Newton's first law of motion and applies forces to particles only when there is a net force acting upon them. This is in contrast to standard SPH which explicitly uses Newton's third law of motion continuously applying equal but opposite forces between particles. rpSPH does not show the unphysical particle noise, the clumping or banding instability, unphysical surface tension and unphysical scattering of different mass particles found for standard SPH. At the same time, it uses fewer computational operations and only changes a single line in existing SPH codes. We demonstrate its performance on isobaric uniform density distributions, uniform density shearing flows, the Kelvin-Helmholtz and Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities, the Sod shock tube, the Sedov-Taylor blast wave and a cosmological integration of the Santa Barbara galaxy cluster formation test. rpSPH is an improvement in these cases. The improvements come at the cost of giving up exact momentum conservation of the scheme. Consequently, one can also obtain unphysical solutions particularly at low resolutions. © 2011 The Author. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society © 2011 RAS.