Work begins on the world's largest cosmic ray observatory

Sep 25, 2012 by Jenny Winder, Universe Today
Lake Baikal. Credit: SeaWiFS Project NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and ORBIMAGE

Construction has just begun at the Tunka Valley near Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia on an observatory that, once completed, will consist of an array of up to 1,000 detectors covering 100 square kilometres. Its size will allow scientists to investigate cosmic rays—the space radiation emitted from gamma rays and heavier nuclei—which are accelerated to energies higher than those achieved in the Large Hadron Collider. With the new observatory, called HiSCORE (Hundred Square-km Cosmic ORigin Explorer), scientists hope to solve the mystery of the origins of cosmic rays, and perhaps probe dark matter too

It was a hundred years ago that Austrian-American physicist Victor Hess first discovered that radiation was penetrating Earth's atmosphere from outer space. The problem has been to track down their origin, as cosmic rays consist of charged particles and are therefore deflected in interstellar and intergalactic magnetic fields. The use of simple, inexpensive detector stations, placed several hundred meters apart, makes it possible to instrument a huge area, allowing scientists to investigate cosmic rays within an energy range from 100 TeV up to at least 1 EeV.

Cherenkov detector in front of the starry sky. Credit: Tunka Collaboration

Cosmic rays cannot penetrate our atmosphere but each detector can observe the radiation created when cosmic rays hit the Earth's upper atmosphere, causing a shower of that travel faster than the speed of light in air, producing Cherenkov radiation in the process. This light is weak, but can be detected on the surface of the earth with sensitive instruments like HiSCORE's photomultiplier tubes.

Cherenkov radiation can be used to determine the source and intensity of cosmic rays as well as to investigate the properties of high-energy astronomical objects that emit like and blazars. The wide field of view also allows HiSCORE to monitor extended gamma ray emitting structures such as molecular gas clouds, dense regions or large scale structures such as star forming regions or the galactic plane.

HiSCORE can also be used for testing theories about Dark Matter. A strong absorption feature is expected around 100 TeV. Examination can give information about the absorption of gamma rays in the interstellar photon fields and the CMB. If the absorption is less than expected, this might indicate the presence of hidden photons or axions. Also, the decay of heavy supersymmetric particles might be detectable by HiSCORE. The data will improve as the facility grows over the years. By 2013-14 the area will be around one square kilometre, and over 10 square kilometres by 2016.

HiSCORE is a joint project between the Institute for Nuclear Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Irkutsk State University in Siberia and Lomonosov Moscow State University – as well as DESY, the University of Hamburg and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. HiSCORE also hopes to collaborate with the Pierre Auger observatory in Argentina.

Explore further: Pushy neighbors force stellar twins to diverge

More information: Find out more about HiSCORE at the project's website.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Galactic Center Found To Glow Unevenly

Feb 21, 2006

An international team of more than 100 astrophysicists said they have detected very-high-energy gamma rays emanating from the huge gas clouds known to pervade the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

100 years of cosmic rays mystery

Aug 01, 2012

As physicists gather in early August to celebrate a century since the initial discovery of cosmic rays, Alan Watson, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Leeds, explains how physicists have gradually revealed ...

Physicists scrutinize the universe with a novel camera

Nov 07, 2011

( -- For the first time, a telescope has been equipped with a camera based on a new technology that uses semiconductors. This instrument will observe the flashes of light that are produced by gamma ...

On the Scent of a Pre-Historic Particle Accelerator?

Feb 09, 2006

An international team of astrophysicists have used the H.E.S.S. telescopes to uncover the trail of a 10,000 year old supernova at the heart of the Milky Way. In a paper published in Nature (6th February 2006), they descri ...

Recommended for you

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

10 hours ago

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

Pushy neighbors force stellar twins to diverge

17 hours ago

( —Much like an environment influences people, so too do cosmic communities affect even giant dazzling stars: Peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy's center from a high-flying observatory, Cornell ...

Image: Multiple protostars within IRAS 20324+4057

Apr 14, 2014

( —A bright blue tadpole appears to swim through the inky blackness of space. Known as IRAS 20324+4057 but dubbed "the Tadpole", this clump of gas and dust has given birth to a bright protostar, ...

Research group to study interstellar molecules

Apr 11, 2014

From April 2014, a new group will study interstellar molecules and use them to explore the entire star and planet formation process at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. Newly appointed ...

Astronomers suggest more accurate star formation rates

Apr 10, 2014

( —Astronomers have found a new way of predicting the rate at which a molecular cloud—a stellar nursery—will form new stars. Using a novel technique to reconstruct a cloud's 3-D structure, ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Sep 26, 2012
How is this the largest, since Auger has 3000sq km?

More news stories

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

( —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

Vegetables on Mars within ten years?

The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen UR. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to ...

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...