The Search for celestial positronium via the recombination spectrum

S. C. Ellis, J. Bland-Hawthorn

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Positronium is a short-lived atom consisting of a bound electron-positron pair. In the triplet state, when the spins of both particles are parallel, radiative recombination lines will be emitted prior to annihilation. The existence of celestial positronium is revealed through gamma-ray observations of its annihilation products. These observations, however, have intrinsically low angular resolution. In this paper, we examine the prospects for detecting the positronium recombination spectrum. Such observations have the potential to reveal discrete sources of e + for the first time and will allow the acuity of optical telescopes and instrumentation to be applied to observations of high-energy phenomena. We review the theory of the positronium recombination spectrum and provide formulae to calculate expected line strengths from the e + production rate and for different conditions in the interstellar medium. We estimate the positronium emission line strengths for several classes of Galactic and extragalactic sources. These are compared to current observational limits and to current and future sensitivities of optical and infrared instrumentation. We find that observations of the Psα line should soon be possible due to recent advances in NIR spectroscopy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-471
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Elementary particles
  • Line: formation
  • Line: identification


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