Research Article

Peta–electron volt gamma-ray emission from the Crab Nebula

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Science  23 Jul 2021:
Vol. 373, Issue 6553, pp. 425-430
DOI: 10.1126/science.abg5137

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High-energy photons from the Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula contains a pulsar that excites the surrounding gas to emit high-energy radiation. The combination of the pulsar's youth and nearby location makes the nebula the brightest gamma-ray source in the sky. The LHAASO Collaboration report observations of this source at energies of tera– to peta–electron volts, extending the spectrum of this prototypical object. They combine these data with observations at lower energies to model the physics of the emission process. The multiwavelength data can be explained by a combination of synchrotron radiation and inverse Compton scattering.

Science, abg5137, this issue p. 425

Abstract

The Crab Nebula is a bright source of gamma rays powered by the Crab Pulsar’s rotational energy through the formation and termination of a relativistic electron-positron wind. We report the detection of gamma rays from this source with energies from 5 × 10−4 to 1.1 peta–electron volts with a spectrum showing gradual steepening over three energy decades. The ultrahigh-energy photons imply the presence of a peta–electron volt electron accelerator (a pevatron) in the nebula, with an acceleration rate exceeding 15% of the theoretical limit. We constrain the pevatron’s size between 0.025 and 0.1 parsecs and the magnetic field to ≈110 microgauss. The production rate of peta–electron volt electrons, 2.5 × 1036 ergs per second, constitutes 0.5% of the pulsar spin-down luminosity, although we cannot exclude a contribution of peta–electron volt protons to the production of the highest-energy gamma rays.

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