Particle Acceleration on Megaparsec Scales in a Merging Galaxy Cluster

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Science  23 Sep 2010:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1194293


Galaxy clusters form through a sequence of mergers of smaller galaxy clusters and groups. Models of diffusive shock acceleration (DSA) suggest that in shocks that occur during cluster mergers, particles are accelerated to relativistic energies, similar to supernova remnants. Together with magnetic fields, these particles emit synchrotron radiation and may form so-called radio relics. Here, we report the detection of a radio relic for which we find highly aligned magnetic fields, a strong spectral index gradient, and a narrow relic width, giving a measure of the magnetic field in an unexplored site of the universe. Our observations prove that DSA also operates on scales much larger than in supernova remnants and that shocks in galaxy clusters are capable of producing extremely energetic cosmic rays.