Letter

Nature 451, 159-162 (10 January 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06490; Received 30 March 2007; Accepted 16 November 2007

An asymmetric distribution of positrons in the Galactic disk revealed by big gamma-rays

Georg Weidenspointner1,2,3, Gerry Skinner1,4,5, Pierre Jean1, Jürgen Knödlseder1, Peter von Ballmoos1, Giovanni Bignami1,8, Roland Diehl2, Andrew W. Strong2, Bertrand Cordier6, Stéphane Schanne6 & Christoph Winkler7

  1. Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, CNRS/UPS, BP 44346, Toulouse Cedex 4, France
  2. Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Postfach 1312, 85741 Garching, Germany
  3. MPI Halbleiterlabor, Otto-Hahn-Ring 6, 81739 München, Germany
  4. CRESST and Code 661, NASA/GSFC, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA
  5. Department of Astronomy, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA
  6. DSM/DAPNIA/SAp, CEA Saclay, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France
  7. ESA/ESTEC, SCI-SA, Keplerlaan 1, 2201 AZ Noordwijk, The Netherlands
  8. IUSS (Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori), Lungo Ticino 56, 27100, Pavia, Italy

Correspondence to: Georg Weidenspointner1,2,3 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to G.W. (Email: Georg.Weidenspointner@hll.mpg.de).

Gamma-ray line radiation at 511 keV is the signature of electron–positron annihilation. Such radiation has been known for 30 years to come from the general direction of the Galactic Centre1, but the origin of the positrons has remained a mystery. Stellar nucleosynthesis2, 3, 4, accreting compact objects5, 6, 7, 8, and even the annihilation of exotic dark-matter particles9 have all been suggested. Here we report a distinct asymmetry in the 511-keV line emission coming from the inner Galactic disk (approx10–50° from the Galactic Centre). This asymmetry resembles an asymmetry in the distribution of low mass X-ray binaries with strong emission at photon energies >20 keV ('hard' LMXBs), indicating that they may be the dominant origin of the positrons. Although it had long been suspected that electron–positron pair plasmas may exist in X-ray binaries, it was not evident that many of the positrons could escape to lose energy and ultimately annihilate with electrons in the interstellar medium and thus lead to the emission of a narrow 511-keV line. For these models, our result implies that up to a few times 1041 positrons escape per second from a typical hard LMXB. Positron production at this level from hard LMXBs in the Galactic bulge would reduce (and possibly eliminate) the need for more exotic explanations, such as those involving dark matter.

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