Aielli, G (reprint author), Univ Roma Tor Vergata, Dipartimento Fis, Via Ric Sci 1, I-00133 Rome, Italy.
In 2008, the blazar Markarian 421 entered a very active phase and was one of the brightest sources in the sky at TeV energies, showing frequent flaring episodes. Using the data of ARGO-YBJ, a full coverage air shower detector located at Yangbajing (4300 m a.s.l., Tibet), we monitored the source at gamma-ray energies E > 0.3 TeV during the whole year. The observed flux was variable, with the strongest flares in March and June, in correlation with X-ray enhanced activity. While during specific episodes the TeV flux could be several times larger than the Crab Nebula one, the average emission from day 41 to 180 was almost twice the Crab level, with an integral flux of (3.6 +/- 0.6) x 10(-11) photons cm(-2) s(-1) for energies E > 1 TeV, and decreased afterward. This Letter concentrates on the flares that occurred in the first half of June. This period has been deeply studied from optical to 100 MeV gamma rays, and partially up to TeV energies, since the moonlight hampered the Cherenkov telescope observations during the most intense part of the emission. Our data complete these observations, with the detection of a signal with a statistical significance of 3.8 standard deviations on June 11-13, corresponding to a gamma-ray flux about 6 times larger than the Crab one above 1 TeV. The reconstructed differential spectrum, corrected for the intergalactic absorption, can be represented by a power law with an index alpha = -2.1(-0.5)(+0.7) extending up to several TeV. The spectrum slope is fully consistent with previous observations reporting a correlation between the flux and the spectral index, suggesting that this property is maintained in different epochs and characterizes the source emission processes.