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High-energy particle acceleration in the shell of a supernova remnant


A significant fraction of the energy density of the interstellar medium is in the form of high-energy charged particles (cosmic rays)1. The origin of these particles remains uncertain. Although it is generally accepted that the only sources capable of supplying the energy required to accelerate the bulk of Galactic cosmic rays are supernova explosions, and even though the mechanism of particle acceleration in expanding supernova remnant (SNR) shocks is thought to be well understood theoretically2,3, unequivocal evidence for the production of high-energy particles in supernova shells has proven remarkably hard to find. Here we report on observations of the SNR RX J1713.7 - 3946 (G347.3 - 0.5), which was discovered by ROSAT4 in the X-ray spectrum and later claimed as a source of high-energy γ-rays5,6 of TeV energies (1 TeV = 1012 eV). We present a TeV γ-ray image of the SNR: the spatially resolved remnant has a shell morphology similar to that seen in X-rays, which demonstrates that very-high-energy particles are accelerated there. The energy spectrum indicates efficient acceleration of charged particles to energies beyond 100 TeV, consistent with current ideas of particle acceleration in young SNR shocks.

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Figure 1: Wide field of view (3.5° × 3.5°) around RX J1713.7 - 3946.
Figure 2: γ-ray image of the SNR RX J1713.7 - 3946 obtained with the HESS telescopes.
Figure 3: γ-ray energy spectrum of RX J1713.7 - 3946 as measured with the HESS telescopes.


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The support of the Namibian authorities and of the University of Namibia in facilitating the construction and operation of HESS is acknowledged. We also thank the following for support: the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), the Max Planck Society, the French Ministry for Research, the CNRS-IN2P3 and the Astroparticle Interdisciplinary Programme of the CNRS, the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the IPNP of Charles University, the South African Department of Science and Technology and National Research Foundation, and the University of Namibia. The European Associated Laboratory for Gamma-Ray Astronomy is jointly supported by CNRS and MPG. We appreciate the work of the technical support staff in Berlin, Durham, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Palaiseau, Paris, Saclay and Namibia in the construction and operation of the equipment. We also thank Y. Uchiyama for supplying the ASCA X-ray data shown in Fig. 2.

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Correspondence to D. Berge.

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Aharonian, F., Akhperjanian, A., Aye, KM. et al. High-energy particle acceleration in the shell of a supernova remnant. Nature 432, 75–77 (2004).

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