Very High Energy Gamma-Ray Binary Stars

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Science  11 Dec 1987:
Vol. 238, Issue 4833, pp. 1528-1534
DOI: 10.1126/science.238.4833.1528


One of the major astronomical discoveries of the last two decades was the detection of luminous x-ray binary star systems in which gravitational energy from accretion is released by the emission of x-ray photons, which have energies in the range of 0.1 to 10 kiloelectron volts. Recent observations have shown that some of these binary sources also emit photons in the energy range of 1012 electron volts and above. Such sources contain a rotating neutron star that is accreting matter from a companion. Techniques to detect such radiation are ground-based, simple, and inexpensive. Four binary sources (Hercules X-1, 4U0115+63, Vela X-1, and Cygnus X-3) have been observed by at least two independent groups. Although the discovery of such very high energy "gamma-ray binaries" was not theoretically anticipated, models have now been proposed that attempt to explain the behavior of one or more of the sources. The implications of these observations is that a significant portion of the more energetic cosmic rays observed on Earth may arise from the action of similar sources within the galaxy during the past few million years.