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NASA’s Fermi Space Telescope explores new energy extremes

Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) scans the entire sky every three hours, continually deepening its portrait of the sky in gamma rays, the most energetic form of light. While the energy of visible light falls between about 2 and 3 electron volts, the LAT detects gamma rays with energies ranging from 20 million to more than 300 billion electron volts (GeV).

Any object producing gamma rays at these energies is undergoing extraordinary astrophysical processes. More than half of the 496 sources in the new census are active galaxies, where matter falling into a supermassive black hole powers jets that spray out particles at nearly the speed of light.

Fermi’s view of the gamma-ray sky continually improves. The top image of the entire sky includes three years of observations and shows how the sky appears at energies greater than 1 billion electron volts (1 GeV). Brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. A diffuse glow fills the sky and is brightest along the plane of our galaxy (middle). These sources include pulsars and supernova remnants within our galaxy as well as distant galaxies powered by supermassive black holes.

The second image is an all-sky Fermi view that includes only sources with energies greater than 10 GeV. From some of these sources, Fermi’s LAT detects only one gamma-ray photon every four months. Brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. »