Cosmic Rays from Cosmic Birth

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Science  26 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6008, pp. 1184-1185
DOI: 10.1126/science.1199141

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Jets of plasma containing energized charged particles have been observed emanating from a host of astrophysical objects, including massive black holes at the center of active galaxies, gamma-ray bursters, planetary nebulae, young stars, and brown dwarfs. There are good reasons for suspecting that the same basic mechanism generates the jet in every case despite the mass differences spanning more than 10 orders of magnitude (1). All of these objects have several features in common: a central gravitating source, an accretion disk (which is formed from diffuse matter orbiting around a central mass), and a strong magnetic field. On page 1209 of this issue, Carrasco-González et al. (2) show that these objects also share another characteristic—the ability to accelerate electrons to highly relativistic energies. The observations provide a key step in our understanding of the mechanisms of jet formation.