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A massive gamma-ray bubble is generating intense cosmic rays

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Recent astronomical discoveries have unveiled a giant gamma-ray bubble in the Cygnus star-forming region that is proving to be a significant source of extreme cosmic rays. This discovery, made by the Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO) Collaboration in China, has shed new light on the origins of cosmic rays with unprecedented energy levels.

The gamma-ray burst, designated GRB 221009A, was found to be more powerful than 10 peta-electronvolts (PeV), which is over ten times the average energy of such bursts. This makes it the brightest and most energetic gamma-ray burst ever studied by astronomers. The team, led by Professor Cao Zhen from the Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was able to accurately measure the energy spectrum of the burst, providing crucial insights into the nature of cosmic rays.

The LHAASO Collaboration, which comprises over 280 members from 32 astrophysics research institutions worldwide, used a range of detectors and telescopes to study cosmic rays. Their observatory, located at a high altitude on Mount Haizi in Sichuan Province, China, is dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of these high-energy particles.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the discovery is the identification of a massive cosmic ray accelerator near the center of the gamma-ray bubble. This accelerator is believed to be associated with the Cygnus OB2 star cluster, which contains young massive stars with intense radiation pressures. The collisions between stellar winds generated by these stars and the interstellar medium create an ideal environment for particle acceleration, leading to the production of high-energy gamma rays.

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These findings have far-reaching implications for our understanding of astrophysical processes and could challenge existing models of galaxy formation and cosmic ray transport in the Milky Way. Additionally, the discovery of such an extreme cosmic ray source opens up new avenues for testing fundamental physics theories, such as Special Relativity and the nature of Dark Matter.

Overall, the investigation into this gamma-ray bubble and its cosmic ray accelerator represents a significant leap forward in our quest to comprehend the most energetic phenomena in the Universe. As scientists continue to delve deeper into the mysteries of cosmic rays and gamma-ray bursts, we can expect more groundbreaking discoveries that will reshape our understanding of the cosmos.

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Chats and reflections on the present moment.

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Lydia Polgreen

Credit…Will Heath/NBC, via Getty Images

It is a rare thing in our rapidly secularizing country to be confronted with piety and devotion in popular culture. So it was a surprise, and a balm, to watch a man who prays daily and talks openly about his devout faith storm a bastion of earthly godlessness: “Saturday Night Live.”

I am referring, of course, to the comedian Ramy Youssef, who hosted the show on what he described in his opening monologue as “an incredibly spiritual weekend,” noting Ramadan, Easter and the arrival of a new Beyoncé album.

“I’m doing the Ramadan one,” he quipped, to peals of laughter, unspooling a very funny bit about how loving Muslims are. Youssef has mined his experience as a believer among the profane in gentle standup specials and a namesake sitcom. His entire monologue glowed with a welcoming warmth — Muslims, he seemed to say: We’re just like you.

In a country that is supposedly obsessed with diversity and inclusion, it is remarkable how rare it is to hear from a practicing Muslim in America.

Surveys by the Institute for Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan research organization focused on Muslim Americans, have consistently found that Muslims are the most likely group to report religious discrimination in the United States. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2021, 78 percent of Americans said that there was either a lot or some discrimination against Muslims in our society. Muslims are no more likely to commit crimes than members of any other group, but crimes in which Muslims are suspects get outsized media coverage, research has shown.

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It is no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is perhaps the most tolerated form of religious prejudice. Right now, Senate Republicans appear to have persuaded several Senate Democrats to vote against a Muslim judicial nominee after smearing him, with no evidence at all, as an antisemite.

Many of the skits that toyed with religion on “S.N.L.” on Saturday were funny — Ozempic for Ramadan! Genius. But part of me winced through them as well, because I saw in Youssef something that other members of minority groups have had to do to “earn” their place in the safety of the mainstream: the performance of normalcy, of being nonthreatening and sweet, the requirement to prove that your community belongs in America just like everyone else’s.

I loved Youssef’s monologue, in which he bravely pleaded, “Please, free the people of Palestine. And please, free the hostages. All of the hostages.”

“I am out of ideas,” Youssef declared toward the end of his monologue. “All I have is prayers.”

To which this nonbeliever can only say: Same, Ramy. Same.

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