Cosmic rays

From early experiments with electricity to detectors in space: Find out about the history of research into cosmic rays 

Background
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18 09, 2014

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) collaboration presents new insights into the nature of the mysterious excess of positrons observed in the flux of cosmic rays. These are based on the analysis of 41 billion particles, among which 10 million have been identified as electrons and positrons, detected with the space-based AMS detector aboard the International Space Station. 

Since antimatter is extremely rare in the universe, any significant excess of antimatter particles recorded in the flux of energetic cosmic rays indicates the existence of a new source of positrons. 

The distribution of these events in the energy range of 0.5 to 500 GeV shows a well-measured increase of positrons from 8 GeV with no preferred incoming direction in space. The energy at which the positron fraction ceases to increase has been measured to be 275±32 GeV. This rate of decrease after the “cut-off energy” is very important to physicists as it could be an indicator that the excess of positrons is the signature of dark matter particles annihilating into pairs of electrons and positrons.

Although the current measurements could be explained by objects such as pulsars, they are also tantalizingly consistent with dark matter particles with mass of the order of 1 TeV. Therefore, results at higher energies will be of crucial importance in the near future to evaluate if the signal is from dark matter or from a cosmic source.

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CDS Media
12 07, 2018

Scientists at IceCube observatory and collaborators identify what deem to be a source of very high energy neutrinos and, thus, of cosmic rays. 

Blazar TXS 0506+056 was first singled out as the source. A blazar is a giant elliptical galaxy with a massive, rapidly spinning black hole at its core, which emits twin jets of light and elementary particles.

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CDS Media
19 10, 2006

The CLOUD (Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets) experiment begins taking its first data today with a prototype detector in a particle beam at CERN, the world's largest laboratory for particle physics. The goal of the experiment is to investigate the possible influence of galactic cosmic rays on Earth's clouds and climate. This represents the first time a high energy physics accelerator has been used for atmospheric and climate science.

Studies suggest that cosmic rays may influence the amount of cloud cover through the formation of new aerosols (tiny particles suspended in the air that seed cloud droplets). Clouds exert a strong influence on the Earth's energy balance, and changes of only a few per cent have an important effect on the climate. The CLOUD prototype experiment aims to investigate the effect of cosmic rays on the formation of new aerosols.

Understanding the microphysics in controlled laboratory conditions is a key to unravelling the connection between cosmic rays and clouds. CLOUD will reproduce these interactions for the first time by sending a beam of particles – the "cosmic rays" - from CERN's Proton Synchrotron into a reaction chamber. The effect of the beam on aerosol production will be recorded and analysed.

The collaboration comprises an interdisciplinary team from 18 institutes and 9 countries in Europe, the United States and Russia. It brings together atmospheric physicists, solar physicists, and cosmic ray and particle physicists to address a key question in the understanding of clouds and climate change. 

 

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The CLOUD experiment
The Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets (CLOUD) experiment as shown by Jasper Kirkby (spokesperson). (Image: CERN)
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CDS Media
21 05, 2014
Drupal 7 path
icecube-measures-5σ-significance-level-for-the-observation-of-extraterrestrial-neutrinos

Inspired by the 1PeV events, IceCube began a follow up search with combined two powerful techniques. The first was to distinguish neutrino interactions that originated inside the detector from events which originate outside it. The second technique capitalized on the fact that downgoing atmospheric neutrinos should be accompanied by a cosmic-ray air shower depositing one or more muons inside IceCube whereas cosmic neutrinos should be unaccompanied. Consequently, a very high energy isolated downgoing neutrino is likely to be cosmic.

This search found 26 additional events and produced evidence for cosmic neutrinos at the 4σ significance level. The search was continued for an extra year in order to push the significance up to 5σ. One of the new events had an energy of above 2 PeV, making it the most energetic neutrino ever seen. Many explanations have been proposed for the IceCube observations, ranging from the relativistic particle jets emitted by active galactic nuclei to gamma ray busts, to galaxies to magnetars. Overall the solution is clear: More data is needed. 

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09 08, 2011
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icecube-presents-the-1-pev-event

In 2013 IceCube presented two events at around 1 PeV, the first recorded on 9 August 2011, the second on 3 January 2012. Both of these events were part of the search for ultra high energy cosmogenic neutrinos  and were completely unexpected. These were the highest neutrino energies to be observed with an equivalent mass energy of over 1 million protons or about 250 times the energy of one of the protons accelerated at the LHC. The neutrinos detected may have originated from Galactic or extragalactic sources of cosmic rays. The 1 PeV events were spectacular but the energies were too low to be produced by cosmic rays interacting with cosmic microwave background photons.  

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18 12, 2010
Drupal 7 path
icecube-construction-completed

On 18 December 2010, the expanded version of AMANDA, IceCube was completed. IceCube works in the same way as AMANDA but on a larger scale. AMANDA was incorporated into IceCube after operating for nine years. IceCube took seven years to complete and measures Cherenkov light emitted by charged particles produced in neutrino interactions in a cubic kilometer of transparent ice – the water equivalent of one million swimming pools.

IceCube detects 275 million cosmic rays each day and approximately 100,000 neutrinos per year. Approximately a terabyte of unfiltered data is collected daily and about 100 gigabytes are sent over satellite for analysis. 

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09 11, 2007
Drupal 7 path
pierre-auger-observatory-discovers-extragalactic-origin-of-highest-energy-cosmic-rays

In November 2007, the Auger project published results showing that the direction of origin of the 27 highest energy events were strongly correlated with the location of active galactic nuclei (AGN). An active galactic nucleus is a compact region at the centre of a galaxy that has a much higher than normal luminosity over at least some portion, and possibly all, of the electromagnetic spectrum. These results supported the theory that at the centre of each AGN is a large black hole exerting a magnetic field strong enough to accelerate a bare proton to energies of 1020 eV and higher.

The Auger observatory is the world’s largest and most accurate observatory for studying cosmic rays. It consists of 1600 surface detectors and 27 fluorescent telescopes and covers an area of 3000 km2. The Pierre Auger collaboration has made many low-energy incidents, which do not require physical analysis, available on the Public Event Display website. 

Timeline
15 07, 2003
Drupal 7 path
amanda-sees-first-neutrinos-in-ice

The photomultiplier tubes within these basketball-sized glass orbs are at the heart of the AMANDA neutrino telescope, a novel telescope being built at the South Pole to detect cosmic neutrinos (Image: Jeff Miller)


The Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA) telescope - which lies buried under kilometer of ice - aims to detect high-energy cosmic neutrinos from our own or nearby galaxies. Neutrinos are mysterious particles associated with radioactive phenomena. They have little mass, no electric charge and can travel straight through the earth as they interact only very weakly with other matter. Neutrinos are numerous in the cosmos at large so have a significant influence on the events of the universe. They are present in the universe as leftovers of creation and are emitted by processes that fuel the sun. Neutrinos spill out in huge numbers from colossal stellar explosions.

The idea behind the AMANDA telescope is that neutrinos interacting with ice emit a brief flash of blue light which can be detected if the ice is clear enough. Since neutrinos are so weakly interacting, a cubic kilometer of ice is required to detect them. In the Antarctic, the ice at this depth below is as clear as a diamond because the pressure from the snow above squeezes out all the air bubbles. Consequently, the ice is clear enough that the blue light flashes caused by the interaction of neutrinos can travel undimmed for more than 100 metres to be detected by photomultipliers. Photomultipliers convert the faint light to an electric current which travels to the surface to record the interaction. When star explodes as a supernova in the galaxy, bursts of neutrinos will burst through the earth and send flashes of blue light through the Antarctic ice. After nine years of operation, AMANDA was incorporated into the full size detector, IceCube. 

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21 10, 2003
Drupal 7 path
pierre-auger-observatory-completes-its-100th-detector

Upon completing its 100th surface detector, the Pierre Auger Observatory became the largest cosmic-ray air shower array in the world. The Pierre Auger Observatory is a hybrid detector that uses two independent methods of detecting and studying cosmic rays. The observatory detects high-energy particles through their interaction with water placed in the surface detector tanks. The other method of detection is through tracking the development of air showers through observing the ultraviolet light emitted high in the earth’s atmosphere. 

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25 02, 1997
Drupal 7 path
baikal-–-first-underwater-neutrino-telescope

Satellite image showing spring ice melt underway on Lake Baikal (Image: NASA Earth Observatory)

NT200, a detector in lake Baikal played a pioneering role in neutrino astronomy. NT200 was constructed between 1993 and 1998. However, in 1994 NT200 detected two neutrino events when only 36 of the final 192 photodetectors were set up. These were the first of several hundred thousand atmospheric neutrinos which NT200 later detected.

Many expansions have taken place recently and neutrino research at lake Baikal continues to be an important part of the efforts to better understand the high energy process that occurs in the far-distant astrophysical sources, to determine the origin of cosmic particles of the highest energies ever registered, to search for dark matter, to study properties of elementary particles and to learn a great deal of the new information about the structure and evolution of the universe as a whole. 

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