Detecting Cosmic Rays: Astronomers Usurp the Moon For Their Nefarious Scientific Schemes
Astronomers and Engineers plan to use the moon as the biggest Cosmic Ray detector ever conceived to de-mystify the origins of the most powerful cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays are simple things ultimitely (atomic nuclei) but they are also mysterious misnomers that can occasionally pack such a wallop that scientists are left speechless (almost) at explaining how they do it.
First of all, cosmic rays are not rays. Rays are beams right? This designation is a historical holdover from when we thought they were primarily some form of electromagnetic radiation. It’s rare but some textbooks even still lump x-rays and gamma-rays in with cosmic rays. It’s still a cool term though isn’t it?
Now we know that they are in fact high energy particles that stream in from space wherever you look. If you could grab one and look at it you’d find 99 times out of 100 times, simple and bare nuclei from atoms. 1 in 100 times you’d have just an electron in your hands. The nuclei themselves are most often hydrogen atoms with no electron attached, in other words a plain old proton. Once in a while you’d find the nucleus of a helium atom, 2 protons and 2 neutrons bound together, often called alpha particles.
There are various flavors of cosmic rays like Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR), Anomalous Cosmic Rays (ACR), and Solar Energetic Particles (SEP). Their origins vary as do their ratios of particles but the most mysterious are the Galactic Cosmic Rays which come from unknown processes outside out solar system. Their energies generally range from 10 million electron volts to 10 billion electron volts.
Once in a while though, we detect these particles with mind boggingly high energies. They are called Ultra-High-Energy Cosmic Rays (UHE). The biggest ever detected was a whopper. It’s actually called the Oh My God Particle to reflect the discoverers confoundment. It had an energy of 300 million trillion electron volts. This is so energetic that the particle (probably a proton) was traveling 99.99999999999999999999951 percent the speed of light. Just a tad relativistic I’d say 🙂 That is so close to the speed of light (duh) that if this particle raced a beam of light for almost a quarter million years, it would lose by only a centimeter. With speed and mass comes kinetic energy but how bad would a proton hurt. Well, the energy of this tiny tiny proton was similar to that of a baseball thrown at 100 kilometers per hour (60 mph). Think about that.
What the hell could have accelerated this particle to that speed? Good question. Many believe that they must have been accelerated by some tremendously powerful magnetic or electric field but what can produce that? Other exotic possibilities (mentioned in the arXiv link below) describe these rays originating…
“from the decay of hypothetical supermassive particles, which could either constitute dark matter, or be produced by topological defects such as kinks in cosmic strings formed in the early universe (Berezinsky et al. 2011; Lunardini & Sabancilar 2012)”
Hey, by the way, consider this. Scientists find one proton traveling close to the speed of light and even they are not sure what titanic force of nature could have accelerated it. What does that say about the forces required to accelerate say… one spaceship with quintillions of atoms to similar relativistic velocities. Just sayin’
So we’ve got to study more of these high energy particles if we ever want a chance at finding these answers to these questions. The problem is that studying Ultra High Energy particles are difficult since they hit they hit one specific kilometer on earth about once per century. That is where the moon comes in.
When cosmic rays smash into our atmosphere or the surface of the moon, they create a cascade of daughter particles plus a brief blast radio waves caused by the very fast acceleration and deceleration of charged particles. This nanosecod pulse of radio waves would be detectable on earth if the rays gave the moon a glancing blow on its edge. A direct impact on the moon would be absorbed by the regolith and be undetectable. Still however, the signal would be incredibly faint and require the construction of an immense array of radio telescopes called the Square Kilometer Array.
Once this array is built in the next 10 years, it will have the exquisite sensitivity to detect 165 Ultra High Energy Cosmic Rays a year instead of the paltry 15 per year now that we can detect.
Maybe then we finally determine where these fast balls from space comes from.