Extreme Astrophysics

Extreme Astrophysics

What are the laws of physics governing black holes, neutron stars, and other compact objects? How do they power the most extreme phenomena we witness in the Universe? How can we see what’s happening just outside the event horizon of a black hole? And what role did black holes play in the formation of the present-day structure of our Universe? 
At KIPAC, we are working to better understand the most extreme phenomena in the Universe to address these questions. These phenomena are often driven by gravity, and dwarf the most energetic processes we witness on Earth, including the power of our own Sun. When massive stars collapse at the ends of their lives, they can detonate in spectacular supernova explosions, leaving behind dense compact objects including neutron stars and black holes. At its most extreme, gravity can cause material to collapse into a black hole, an object so dense that not even light can escape. Black holes power some of the most luminous objects in the Universe — active galactic nuclei (AGN), quasars, and radio galaxies. When black holes and compact objects collide, we can measure the gravitational waves that they produce — ripples in the fabric of space and time – and black holes and pulsars can act as powerful particle accelerators.

Black Holes

KIPAC scientists are at the forefront of research into black holes, the most extreme manifestation of the force of gravity, and how they power some of the brightest objects in the Universe. Working to understand stellar-mass black holes in X-ray binaries to supermassive black holes in active galactic nuclei (AGN) and quasars, astrophysicists use a wide variety of observations from radio, infrared, optical, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray telescopes, as well as theoretical models and computer simulations. KIPAC scientists also study the extreme environments around black holes. This research gives insight into how black holes grow, how they power such intense light sources, how they launch jets, and the important role black holes play in the growth of galaxies and the formation of structure in the Universe.

Compact Objects, Neutron stars, and Pulsars

Researchers at KIPAC study compact objects left at the ends of the lives of stars, including white dwarfs, neutron stars, and pulsars, to probe some of the most extreme physical conditions in the Universe. With a combination of theoretical modeling and astrophysical observations, especially using optical and X-ray telescopes, we can gain a unique insight into strong gravity, the properties of matter at extreme densities, and high-energy particle acceleration.

Particle Acceleration

The Universe is awash in highly energetic particles with velocities approaching the speed of light. Astroparticle physicists at KIPAC are working to understand the origins of these high-energy particles and to discover where and how they are accelerated to such high energies. We study these high-energy particles using satellite-based detectors like the Large Area Telescope on the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (Fermi) or from the ground with Cherenkov telescopes like H.E.S.S. and VERITAS that examine interactions between gamma rays and Earth’s atmosphere, and develop models to explain the behavior of these particles.

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