The massive black hole at the heart of our milky galaxy may be churning out peculiar particles called neutrinos, NASA satellites have revealed. If verified, it would be the first time neutrinos have been traced to the darkest regions of spacetime.
The subatomic activity was first detected by three NASA satellites, which observe in x-ray light: the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Swift gamma-ray mission, and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), the space agency said in a press release.
Neutrinos, from the Italian “little ones”, live up to their namesake, as they are tiny by even subatomic standards. Carrying no charge, they are unaffected by the electromagnetic forces that affect charged particles such as electrons and protons.
As a result, they can travel across vast expanses of the universe without being absorbed by matter that crosses their path (in fact, billions of them pass through your body every second!) And without an electric charge, they are not deflected by magnetic fields when traveling across the universe.
While the earth is constantly buffeted by neutrinos from the sun, those originating from beyond our solar system can be millions or even billions of times more energetic. Scientists have long puzzled the origin of ultra-high energy and very high-energy neutrinos.
“Figuring out where high-energy neutrinos come from is one of the biggest problems in astrophysics today,” said Yang Bai of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who co-authored a study about the results published in Physical Review D. “We now have the first evidence that an astronomical source – the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole – may be producing these very energetic neutrinos."
By tracing neutrinos back to black holes, scientists will be one step closer to understanding how cosmic rays are made. These rays wreak havoc on microelectronics and life outside the protection of an atmosphere and magnetic field. Understanding their origin also provides deeper insight into how the universe works.