A new high-energy particle is falling to Earth and scientists have no idea where it came from (or what exactly it is).

Scientists discovered the particle in the Utah desert, and they could not believe their eyes at first. The particle has an unprecedented high energy of 244 eV. What exactly this particle is and where it comes from remains a mystery at present.

Researchers discovered the mysterious particle in May 2021, using Telescope arrayWhich consists of more than 500 detectors located in the Utah desert. These detectors are specifically designed to detect high-energy cosmic rays (see box). And in May 2021 it happened. Then researchers discovered its use Telescope array A high-energy particle with an energy of 244 EeV, they now report in the journal Sciences.

mistake
“When I first discovered these high-energy cosmic rays, I thought there was a mistake,” researcher Toshihiro Fujii said. “Because we have not seen such a high level of energy in the last three decades.”

Cosmic rays
Cosmic rays are a collective name for high-energy particles originating in the universe. Although they are all high energy, their energy varies greatly. For example, there are high-energy particles of relatively low energy, which are often produced by stars like our Sun. But there are also particles with much higher energy; Tens of millions of times higher than what we can make in the most powerful man-made particle accelerators on Earth. However, these ultra-energy particles are much rarer than relatively lower-energy particles (such as those produced by our Sun). Therefore, scientists have to make great efforts to detect these. And in the Utah desert they are trying to do this using a telescope array. This cosmic ray observatory consists of 507 detectors distributed over an area of ​​700 square kilometers. These detectors do not detect very high-energy particles themselves, but rather detect their effects. At the top of the atmosphere, very high-energy particles collide with other particles, creating more than a thousand “secondary” particles. These particles still contain a lot of energy, so they collide with other particles. This process continues to repeat itself, eventually creating billions of new molecules that (with any luck) will be detected by detectors in Utah. These detectors are equipped with instruments that allow the path and energy of the original high-energy particle to be determined after these secondary particles are detected.

Previous discoveries
thats it Telescope array It works, that’s for sure. In recent years, researchers have detected more than 30 ultra-high-energy particles using these detectors. However, the detection of the particle by Fujii and his colleagues is now in the journal Sciences Presentation, special. It has a much higher energy than the molecules previously associated with it Telescope array It was discovered.

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Oh my god the particles
In fact, this particle strongly reminds scientists of the highest-energy particle ever discovered, the so-called OMG particle. This particle was discovered in 1991 and its energy was estimated at 320 MeV. For decades, no particles approaching this particle in energy have been discovered. So far. Because the particle that Fujii and his colleagues discovered in May 2021 is not a mistake — as Fujii initially thought — it actually exists and can almost rival the OMG particle in terms of energy.

This artist’s impression shows the discovery of the particle. It can be seen how a particle in the atmosphere interacts with other particles, leading to the formation of new particles. These particles also collide again, creating new particles, and so on. Eventually, this creates a “rain” of particles that grows larger. It was discovered by 23 detectors in the Utah desert and has now been transformed into a super-energy particle with an energy of 244 MeV. Image: Osaka Metropolitan University/L-Insight, Kyoto University/Ryunosuke Takeshige.

Amaterasu
For now, scientists have named the new high-energy particle Amaterasu. Therefore, it was named after the sun goddess in Shintoism (the original religion of Japan). The particle — or, more accurately, its traces — was detected by 23 detectors in the Utah desert. The particle appears to be coming from a direction Local vacuum: An “empty” piece of space bordering the Milky Way.

puzzle
However, just as in the case of the OMG particle, where the particle originates remains a mystery, says researcher John Matthews. “The particles have so much energy that they should not be affected by galactic and extragalactic magnetic fields.” This actually means that its path is not affected by those magnetic fields and that it moves more or less in a straight line through the universe. “So you should be able to point to a point in space where they originate. But in the case of the Oh my God particle and this new particle, you can infer from their path where they came from, but there is nothing in that place that has enough energy to detect such a super particle.” “Energy. It can be produced. That’s the mysterious thing about it.”

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More research
To solve this mystery, more research and data are needed, says Fujii Scientias.nl. “We need to discover more of these types of energetic particles.” It is hoped that it will be improved Telescope array – Which increases the sensitivity of detectors – can help with this.

Pending more data, scientists can only guess at the origin of the Amaterasu particle. “When people think of high energy, they often think of things like a supernova. But a supernova is nowhere near enough energy to produce something like this,” Matthews says. “You really need huge amounts of energy and strong magnetic fields to hold the particle for some time.” Time is accelerating.” In the region from which the Amaterasu particle appears to be coming, researchers are unable to find such an object or phenomenon. Which, of course, immediately raises the question of whether the path of this particle was disturbed by the magnetic fields it encountered along the way. , meaning the particle actually comes from a completely different part of the universe than we currently think. Researcher John Bales says this is implausible. Magnetic fields may actually be stronger than we thought, but this is inconsistent with other observations that show they are not as strong “It’s enough to deflect the path of less energetic particles. It’s a real mystery.”

This leaves us with two puzzles when it comes to ultra-high-energy particles. Because the origin of the OMG particle is also shrouded in mystery, according to Balz. “These particles seem to come from completely different places in the universe. So it’s not that there’s one mysterious source. It could be the result of an anomaly in space-time, a collision of cosmic strings. These are just some of the crazy ideas that people are throwing around now because there’s no conventional explanation for it.”

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Megan Vasquez

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