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Gamma-ray Science Interest Group

Decadal Survey White Paper Projects

List of Gamma-ray science white papers submitted by community members to the GRSIG and Astro2020:

Catching Element Formation In The Act—The Case for a New MeV Gamma-Ray Mission: Radionuclide Astronomy in the 2020s

Lead AuthorChris L. Fryer
Lead Author emailfryer@lanl.gov
CoauthorsFred Adams, Melina Avila, Wako Aoki, Almudena Arcones, David Arnett, Katie Auchettl, Carles Badenes, Eddie Baron, Andreas Bauswein, John Beacom, Jeff Blackmon, Stéphane Blondin, Peter Bloser, Steve Boggs, Alan Boss, Terri Brandt, Eduardo Bravo, Ed Brown, Peter Brown, Steve Bruenn, Carl Budtz-Jørgensen, Eric Burns, Alan Calder, Regina Caputo, Art Champagne, Roger Chevalier, Alessandro Chieffi, Kelly Chipps, David Cinabro, Ondrea Clarkson, Alain Coc, Devin Connolly, Benoit Côté, Sean Couch, Nicolas Dauphas et al.
Key wordsStars and Stellar Evolution; Galaxy Evolution
Link to white paper/draft118-67aa9f7d04d7bb408a3881b53afc8a5e_TimmesFrankX.pdf
AbstractGamma-ray astronomy explores the most energetic photons in nature to address some of the most pressing puzzles in contemporary astrophysics. It encompasses a wide range of objects and phenomena: stars, supernovae, novae, neutron stars, stellar-mass black holes, nucleosynthesis, the interstellar medium, cosmic rays and relativistic-particle acceleration, and the evolution of galaxies. MeV γ-rays provide a unique probe of nuclear processes in astronomy, directly measuring radioactive decay, nuclear de-excitation, and positron annihilation. The substantial information carried by γ-ray photons allows us to see deeper into these objects, the bulk of the power is often emitted at γ-ray energies, and radioactivity provides a natural physical clock that adds unique information. New science will be driven by time-domain population studies at γ-ray energies. This science is enabled by next-generation γ-ray instruments with one to two orders of magnitude better sensitivity, larger sky coverage, and faster cadence than all previous γ-ray instruments. This transformative capability permits: (a) the accurate identification of the γ-ray emitting objects and correlations with observations taken at other wavelengths and with other messengers; (b) construction of new γ-ray maps of the Milky Way and other nearby galaxies where extended regions are distinguished from point sources; and (c) considerable serendipitous science of scarce events—nearby neutron star mergers, for example. Advances in technology push the performance of new γ-ray instruments to address:

  • How do white dwarfs explode as Type Ia Supernovae (SNIa)?
  • What is the distribution of 56Ni production within a large population of SNIa?
  • How do SNIa γ-ray light curves and spectra correlate with their UV/optical/IR counterparts?
  • How do massive stars explode as core-collapse supernovae?
  • How are newly synthesized elements spread out within the Milky Way Galaxy?
  • How do the masses, spins, and radii of compact stellar remnants result from stellar evolution?
  • How do novae enrich the Galaxy in heavy elements?
  • What is the source that drives the morphology of our Galaxy's positron annihilation γ-rays?
  • How do neutron star mergers make most of the stable r-process isotopes? Over the next decade, multi-messenger astronomy will probe the rich astrophysics of transient phenomena in the sky, including light curves and spectra from supernovae and interacting binaries, gravitational and electromagnetic signals from the mergers of compact objects, and neutrinos from the Sun, massive stars, and the cosmos. During this new era, the terrestrial Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) and Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLAS) will enable unprecedented precision measurements of reaction rates with novel direct and indirect techniques to open perspectives on transient objects such as novae, X-ray bursts, kilonovae, and the rapid neutron capture process. This ongoing explosion of activity in multi-messenger astronomy powers theoretical and computational developments, in particular the evolution of community-driven, open-knowledge software instruments. The unique information provided by MeV γ-ray astronomy to help address these frontiers makes now a compelling time for the astronomy community to strongly advocate for a new γ-ray mission to be operational in the 2020s and beyond.

Measurement of the Optical-IR Spectral Shape of Prompt Gamma-Ray Burst Emission: A Timely Call to Action for Gamma-Ray Burst Science

Lead AuthorBruce Grossan
Lead Author emailBruce_Grossan@lbl.gov
CoauthorsPawan Kumar, Kevin Hurley, Bing Zhang
Key wordsgamma-ray burst prompt optical emilsison; emission mechanism; synchrotron emission; spectrum
Link to white paper/draft137-e9b1d18525a6786a0c171d4711fea542_GrossanBruce.pdf
AbstractThere is still no consensus on the emission mechanism of any type of gamma-ray burst (GRB). This is because a given gamma-band spectrum can come from different mechanisms. Measurement of the prompt optical-IR (OIR) spectral shape (POSS) breaks this degeneracy, however. There are also no direct measurements of the physical conditions in the relativistic jets where burst emission originates. If the synchrotron self-absorption frequency, νa, expected in the OIR region, can be measured, the radius of emission, the electron Lorentz factor, and the B field can be determined. Solving the 50+ year mystery of the emission mechanism is critical for understanding the light we observe from GRBs, and therefore the general problem of the physics of the jet.

Although single band prompt optical fluxes have been measured, no POSS measurement has been made, because telescopes with multi-channel cameras cannot point within the ≲ 10 s required. For a good chance of measuring νa, near-IR (NIR)-optical coverage is also required. NIR measurements require ~ 2-m aperture ground-based telescopes, in turn requiring major engineering efforts for fast pointing. Space telescopes co-located with a gamma instrument have orders of magnitude lower NIR background, always point near the GRB, and never suffer clouds or weather, yielding a much higher detection rate. A ~30 cm space telescope with ≥ 4 OIR imaging channels would measure POSS from most GRBs. Widely available, digitally-controlled, sub-arc sec resolution motors make this fast-pointing space telescope feasible. Sub-second time resolution data from electron multiplied CCDs will allow cross-correlation of optical and gamma-band data, a new tool allowing separation of multi-component spectra. Any GRB mission with ≲ several arc min localization would then be missing essential science without a POSS instrument; i.e., trading the capability of a POSS instrument, even for a much larger aperture, slow-pointing, single channel + filter wheel is not good scientific judgment, because of the loss of such fundamental emission mechanism science. We also note additional capabilities enabled by a POSS-capable instrument, including dust evaporation identification and photo-z.


Energetic Particles of Cosmic Accelerators I

Lead AuthorsTonia Venters & Kenji Hamaguchi
Lead Author emailtonia.m.venters@nasa.gov
CoauthorsTerri J. Brandt, Marco Ajello, Harsha Blumer, Michael Briggs, Paolo Coppi, Filippo D'Ammando, Michaël De Becker, Brian Fields, Sylvain Guiriec, John W. Hewitt, Brian Humensky, Stanley D. Hunter, Hui Li, Amy Y. Lien, Francesco Longo, Julie McEnery, Roopesh Ojha, Vasiliki Pavlidou, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Marcos Santander, John A. Tomsick, Zorawar Wadiasingh, Roland Walter
Key wordsMulti-Messenger Astronomy and Astrophysics; Stars and Stellar Evolution
Link to white paper/draft100-82933a7916aa049d682c5122d3ed73d0_VentersToniaM.pdf
AbstractExecutive Summary: The high-energy universe has revealed that energetic particles are ubiquitous in the cosmos and play a vital role in the cultivation of cosmic environments on all scales. Our pursuit of more than a century to uncover the origins and fate of these cosmic energetic particles has given rise to some of the most interesting and challenging questions in astrophysics. Energetic particles in our own galaxy, galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), engage in a complex interplay with the galaxy's interstellar medium and magnetic fields, giving rise to many of its key characteristics. For instance, GCRs act in concert with the galaxy's magnetic fields to support its disk against its own weight. GCR ionization and heating are essential ingredients in promoting and regulating the formation of stars and protostellar disks. GCR ionization also drives astrochemistry, leading to the build up of complex molecules in the interstellar medium. GCR transport throughout the galaxy generates and maintains turbulence in the interstellar medium, alters its multi-phase structure, and amplifies magnetic fields. GCRs could even launch galactic winds that enrich the circumgalactic medium and alter the structure and evolution of galactic disks.

As crucial as they are for many of the varied phenomena in our galaxy, there's still much we don't understand about GCRs. While they have been linked to supernova remnants (SNRs), it remains unclear whether these objects can fully account for their entire population, particularly at the lower (≲ GeV per nucleon) and higher (~PeV) ends of the spectrum. In fact, it is entirely possible that the SNRs that have been found to accelerate CRs merely re-accelerate them, leaving the origins of the original GCRs a mystery. The conditions for particle acceleration that make SNRs compelling source candidates are also likely to be present in sources such as protostellar jets, superbubbles, and colliding wind binaries (CWBs), but we have yet to ascertain their roles in producing GCRs. For that matter, key details of diffusive shock acceleration (DSA) have yet to be revealed, and it remains to be seen whether DSA can adequately explain particle acceleration in the cosmos.

This White Paper is the first of a two-part series highlighting the most well-known high-energy cosmic accelerators and contributions that MeV γ-ray astronomy will bring to understanding their energetic particle phenomena. For the case of GCRs, MeV astronomy will:

  1. Search for fresh acceleration of GCRs in SNRs;
  2. Test the DSA process, particularly in SNRs and CWBs;
  3. Search for signs of CR acceleration in protostellar jets and superbubbles.

Gamma-Ray Science in the 2020

Lead AuthorsSylvain Guiriec, John Tomsick, and Dieter Hartmann
Lead Author emailsylvain.guiriec@gmail.com
CoauthorsTerri Brandt, Marco Ajello, Alessandro De Angelis, Elisabetta Bissaldi, Bindu Rani, Zorawar Wadiasingh, Frank Timmes, Alexander van der Horst, Filippo D'Ammando, Maria Petropoulou, Vincent Tatischeff, Tonia Venters, Roland Walter, Bing Zhang, Roopesh Ojha, Christopher Fryer, Xilu Wang, Paolo Coppi, Fabian Kislat, Julie McEnery, Regina Caputo
Key wordsMulti-Messenger Astronomy and Astrophysics
Link to white paper/draft130-fcacc73c68e597fea6c25ad3b0b991b0_GuiriecSylvainG.pdf
ConclusionThrough observations of compact objects, their formation, and their environments, we obtain information that allows us to test the laws of physics in the most extreme conditions, to track the evolution of the chemical composition of the Universe, to study the origin of the heaviest elements, and to probe the geometry of space-time fabric at small and large scales. Although compact objects in various stages of their lives, radiate at all frequencies and emit all types of messengers, high-energy astronomy is the cornerstone to decipher these cosmological encrypted messages. With very large fields of view, high-cadence sampling, high angular and spectral resolutions, and polarization capabilities, γ-ray instruments are mature and ready to take the challenge, and they are essential for the time-domain multi-messenger era. In particular, space γ-ray missions are needed for catching the GRBs that come with gravitational waves or the blazar flares that come with high-energy neutrinos. They will also complement the scientific results that will be collected with the ground-based Cherenkov Telescope Array and the large optical and radio surveys such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and Square Kilometre Array.

A Unique Messenger to Probe Active Galactic Nuclei: High-Energy Neutrinos

Lead AuthorMarcos Santander
Lead Author emailjmsantander@ua.edu
CoauthorsSara Buson, Ke Fang, Azadeh Keivani, Thomas Maccarone, Kohta Murase, Maria Petropoulou, Ignacio Taboada, Nathan Whitehorn
Key wordsAGN; neutrinos; multimessenger; multiwavelength
Link to white paper/draft64-c15d59a330e3c3296cd62fefd8d629da_SantanderMarcos.pdf
AbstractThe detection of astrophysical neutrinos by IceCube and the evidence for neutrino emission from a blazar offer exciting opportunities for the study of high-energy neutrinos and photons from AGN in the coming decade. We advocate for a multi-messenger approach that combines high-energy neutrino observations performed by telescopes that will come online in the next decade, and multi-wavelength EM observations by existing and future instruments, with an emphasis on soft X-ray to VHE gamma-ray coverage. The unique capabilities of these instruments combined promise to solve several long-standing issues in our understanding of AGN, the most powerful and persistent cosmic accelerators..

Prompt Emission Polarimetry of Gamma-Ray Bursts

Lead AuthorMark McConnell
Lead Author emailmark.mcconnell@unh.edu
CoauthorsMarco Ajello, Matthew Baring, Peter Bloser, Tanmoy Chattopadhyay, R.M. Curado da Silva, Sylvain Guirec, Dieter Hartmann, Hui Li, Alex Lowell, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Bindu Rani, Vincent Tatischeff, John Tomsick, Alexander van der Horst, Tom Vestrand, Zorawar Wadiasingh, Silvia Zane, Bing Zhang, Haocheng Zhang
Key wordsGRB; polarimetry
Link to white paper/draft250-1a6a04df762cf400b1732069a577da09_McConnellMarkL.pdf
AbstractThe nature of astrophysical jets is a central theme in many areas of astrophysical research. Jets form and propagate under conditions covering a wide range of size and mass scales in a variety of astrophysical systems, including proto-stars, white dwarfs, neutron stars, stellar-mass black holes, and supermassive black holes. Jets are typically observed as an outflow along the rotation axis of an accretion disk and result from the conversion of inflowing energy into axially directed energy, by mechanisms not yet thoroughly understood. Many aspects of astrophysical jets (launching, energization, propagation, composition, and emission) can be studied by measuring the polarization of the prompt emission from γ-ray bursts (GRBs). Theoretically associated with the formation of stellar-mass black holes, GRBs are among the most distant objects observed. The instantaneous electromagnetic intensity released during a typical GRB is eclipsed only by the Big Bang. The intense prompt emission is short-lived, typically lasting < 100 s and is believed to be associated with the formation of an ultra-relativistic jet. Extensive observational and theoretical studies in recent years have largely focused on time histories, spectra, and spatial distributions. Theoretical models show that a more complete understanding of the inner structure of GRBs, including the geometry and physical processes close to the central engine, can only be achieved by γ-ray polarimetry. Studies of ultra-relativistic GRB jets could broaden our understanding of one of the most ubiquitous phenomena in the Universe. After years of investigating time variability and spectra, now is the time to study GRBs in a new and revolutionary way using γ-ray polarimetry. NASA's 2014 Astrophysics Roadmap ("Enduring Quests, Daring Visions") echoed the sentiment that X-ray and γ-ray polarimetry should be a goal of future missions.

Pulsars in a Bubble? Following electron diffusion in the Galaxy with TeV gamma rays

Lead AuthorHenrike Fleischhack
Lead Author emailhfleisch@mtu.edu
CoauthorsA. Albert, C. Alvarez, R. Arceo, H. A. Ayala Solares, J. F. Beacom, R. Bird, C. A. Brisbois, K. S. Caballero-Mora, A. Carramiñana, S. Casanova, P. Cristofari, P. Coppi, B. L. Dingus, M. A. DuVernois, K. L. Engel, J. A. Goodman, T. Greenshaw, J. P. Harding, B. Hona, P. H. Huentemeyer, H. Li, T. Linden, K. Malone, J. Martìnez-Castro, M. A. Mostafá, M. U. Nisa, C. Rivière, F. Salesa Greus, A. Sandoval, A. J. Smith, W. Springer, T. Sudoh, K. Tollefson, A. Zepeda, H. Zhou
Key wordsTeV Halos, TeV gamma-ray astromy, pulsars, electrons
Link to white paper/draft64-5edf9463c10127eacaa29dc85c308ec0_FleischhackHenrike.pdf
AbstractTeV Halos, extended regions of TeV gamma-ray emission around middle-aged pulsars, have recently been established as a new source class in gamma-ray astronomy. These halos have been attributed to relativistic electrons and positrons that are have left the acceleration region close to the pulsar and are diffusing freely in the surrounding medium. Measuring the morphology of TeV Halos enables for the first time a direct measurement of the electron diffusion on scales of tens of parsecs. There are hints that the presence of relativistic particles affects the diffusion rate in the pulsars' surroundings. Understanding electron diffusion is necessary to constrain the origins of the apparent "excess" of cosmic-ray positrons at tens of GeV. TeV Halos can also be used to find mis-aligned pulsars, as well as study certain properties of the Galaxy's pulsar population . Future VHE gamma-ray instruments will detect more of those TeV Halos and determine how much pulsars contribute to the observed cosmic-ray electron and positron fluxes, and how they affect diffusion in their environments.

Energetic Particles of Cosmic Accelerators II

Principal AuthorsTonia M. Venters, Sylvain Guiriec, Amy Y. Lien
Lead Author emailtonia.m.venters@nasa.gov, sylvain.guiriec@gmail.com, amy.y.lien@nasa.gov
CoauthorsMarco Ajello, Terri J. Brandt, Harsha Blumer, Michael Briggs, Paolo Coppi, Filippo D'Ammando, Brian Fields, Justin Finke, Chris Fryer, Kenji Hamaguchi, J. Patrick Harding, John W. Hewitt, Brian Humensky, Stanley D. Hunter, Hui Li, Francesco Longo, Alexandre Marcowith, Julie McEnery, Roopesh Ojha, Vasiliki Pavlidou, Maria Petropoulou, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Bindu Rani, Marcos Santander, John A. Tomsick, Zorawar Wadiasingh, Roland Walter
Key wordsMulti-Messenger Astronomy and Astrophysics; Cosmology and Fundamental Physics
Link to white paper/draft198-2f0549843dce50cc032c595435ca7e36_VentersToniaM.pdf
AbstractThe high-energy universe has revealed that energetic particles are ubiquitous in the cosmos and play a vital role in the cultivation of cosmic environments on all scales. Our pursuit of more than a century to uncover the origins and fate of these cosmic energetic particles has given rise to some of the most interesting and challenging questions in astrophysics. Within our own galaxy, we've seen that energetic particles engage in a complex interplay with the galactic environment and even drive many of its key characteristics (for more information, see the first white paper in this series). On cosmological scales, the energetic particles supplied by the jets of active galactic nuclei (AGN) are an important source of energy for the intracluster and intergalactic media, providing a mechanism for regulating star formation and black hole growth and cultivating galaxy evolution (AGN feedback). The afterglows of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) encode information about their circumburst environment, which has implications for massive stellar winds during previous epochs over the stellar lifecycle. As such, GRB afterglows provide a means for studying very high-redshift galaxies since GRBs can be detected even if their host galaxy cannot. It has even been suggest that GRB could be used to measure cosmological distance scales if they could be shown to be standard candles.

Though they play a key role in cultivating the cosmological environment and/or enabling our studies of it, there's still much we don't know about AGNs and GRBs, particularly the avenue in which and through which they supply radiation and energetic particles, namely their jets. Despite the enormous progress in particle-in-cell and magnetohydrodynamic simulations, we have yet to pinpoint the processes involved in jet formation and collimation and the conditions under which they can occur. For that matter, we have yet to identify the mechanism(s) through which the jet accelerates energetic particles—is it the commonly invoked diffusive shock acceleration (DSA) process or is another mechanism, such as magnetic reconnection, required? Do AGNs and GRBs accelerate hadrons, and if so, do they accelerate them to ultra-high energies and are there high-energy neutrinos associated with them? MeV gamma-ray astronomy, enabled by technological advances that will be realized in the coming decade, will provide a unique and indispensable perspective on the persistent mysteries of the energetic universe.

This White Paper is the second of a two-part series highlighting the most well-known high-energy cosmic accelerators and contributions that MeV gamma-ray astronomy will bring to understanding their energetic particle phenomena. Specifically, MeV astronomy will:

  1. Determine whether AGNs accelerate CRs to ultra-high energies;
  2. Provide the missing pieces for the physics of the GRB prompt emission;
  3. Measure magnetization in cosmic accelerators and search for acceleration via reconnection.

Gamma Ray SIG


Program News and Announcements

16 December 2020
The 237th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Virtually Anywhere, 11–15 January 2021, will include Physics of the Cosmos events. The PCOS AAS2021 Meeting page lists currently scheduled sessions, presentations, chats, and displays »  Details.
4 December 2020
Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) Step-2 Due Date. Step-2 proposals now due 3 February 2021. Step-1 proposal due date unchanged as 11 December 2020 »  Details.
4 December 2020
Release of Final text and Due Dates for ROSES Post-COVID Recovery program. Requests received by 4 January 2021 will be processed first. Final due date is 5 March 2021. »  Details.
4 December 2020
NICER seeks panel members for Cycle 3 proposal review »  Details.
4 December 2020
NASA Science seeking volunteer proposal reviewers in Earth and Space Science »  Details.
9 November 2020
SMD Community Town Hall on Tues 17 November to discuss updates to the Agency-wide science program. »  Details.
6 November 2020
NASA Fundamental Physics Program Virtual Town Hall on 3 December 2020, to discuss research priorities in advance of the Biological and Physical Sciences Division Decadal Survey. »  Details.
5 November 2020
Call for proposals for Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM). Step-1 Proposals are due 11 December 2020. »  Details.
28 October 2020
Call for proposals on Open-Source Tools, Libraries, and Frameworks. »  Details.
28 October 2020
Revised Text and Due Date for NuSTAR General Observer Program Cycle 7. »  Details.
22 Oct 2020
Principal Investigator Launchpad workshop in Summer 2021, targeted toward researchers developing their first flight mission concepts. »  Details.
21 October 2020
Revised submission date: Applications Sought for PhysPAG Executive Committee. Submissions now due November 6. »  Details.
14 October 2020
Astrophysics Explorers Announcement of Opportunity Community Announcement »  Details.
17 September 2020
NASA announces major revisions in Astrophysics Research and Analysis opportunity. Due dates remain unchanged. »  Details.
29 July 2020
Community Announcement: Intention to Amend ROSES-20 via a Future Appendix for Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM). »  Details.

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