Discovery of Powerful Gamma-Ray Flares from the Crab Nebula

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Science  06 Jan 2011:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1200083


The well-known Crab Nebula is at the center of the SN1054 supernova remnant. It consists of a rotationally powered pulsar interacting with a surrounding nebula through a relativistic particle wind. The emissions originating from the pulsar and nebula have been considered to be essentially stable. Here, we report the detection of strong gamma-ray (100 MeV-10 GeV) flares observed by the AGILE satellite in September, 2010 and October, 2007. In both cases, the unpulsed flux increased by a factor of 3 compared to the nonflaring flux. The flare luminosity and short time scale favor an origin near the pulsar, and we discuss Chandra Observatory x-ray and HST optical follow-up observations of the nebula. Our observations challenge standard models of nebular emission and require power-law acceleration by shock-driven plasma wave turbulence within a ~1-day time scale.