MIT Physics News Spotlight

Tracy Slatyer and meng Su win 2014 Bruno Rossi Prize

MIT Physics Department
January 16, 2014

From end to end, the newly discovered gamma-ray bubbles extend 50,000 light-years, or roughly half of the Milky Way's diameter, as shown in this illustration. Hints of the bubbles' edges were first observed in X-rays (blue) by ROSAT, a Germany-led mission operating in the 1990s. The gamma rays mapped by Fermi (magenta) extend much farther from the galaxy's plane.
NASA/GSFC
From end to end, the gamma-ray bubbles extend about 50,000 light-years, or roughly
half of the Milky Way's diameter, as shown in this illustration. Hints of the bubbles'
edges can also be found in X-rays (blue), using data from the missions ROSAT and
XMM-Newton. The gamma rays (magenta) mapped by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray
Space Telescope extend much farther from the Galactic plane than the X-ray edges. NASA/GSFC

Tracy Slatyer, Assistant Professor of Physics, and Pappalardo Fellow Meng Su, along with Douglas Finkbeiner (Harvard), have been jointly awarded the 2014 Bruno Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society's High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD). The prize was given for the trio's "discovery, in gamma rays, of the large unanticipated Galactic structure now called the Fermi Bubbles."

Fermi bubbles are gigantic structures extending from the galactic center and spanning about 50,000 light-years from top to bottom. Data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope revealed the bubbles, which may be the remnant of an eruption from a supersized black hole at the center of our galaxy. This surprising finding has stimulated additional observations at other wavelengths, as well as computer simulations to understand the bubbles' origins. The prize-winners' 2010 paper reporting the discovery has garnered more than 200 citations in only three years.

The HEAD Bruno Rossi Prize is given for a significant contribution to high-energy astrophysics, with particular emphasis on recent, original work. Meng Su is the youngest Rossi Prize winner since the award's inception in 1985.