Although Galactic cosmic rays (protons and nuclei) are widely believed to be mainly accelerated by the winds and supernovae of massive stars, definitive evidence of this origin remains elusive nearly a century after their discovery. The active regions of starburst galaxies have exceptionally high rates of star formation, and their large sizeĝ€"more than 50 times the diameter of similar Galactic regionsĝ€"uniquely enables reliable calorimetric measurements of their potentially high cosmic-ray density. The cosmic rays produced in the formation, life and death of massive stars in these regions are expected to produce diffuse γ-ray emission through interactions with interstellar gas and radiation. M82, the prototype small starburst galaxy, is predicted to be the brightest starburst galaxy in terms of γ-ray emission. Here we report the detection of 700-GeV γ-rays from M82. From these data we determine a cosmic-ray density of 250 eV cm-3 in the starburst core, which is about 500 times the average Galactic density. This links cosmic-ray acceleration to star formation activity, and suggests that supernovae and massive-star winds are the dominant accelerators.
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