“What is happening on Earth?”: The discovery of the most powerful cosmic ray since the “Oh my God particle” surprises scientists | Science and the planet

Astronomers have observed a particle from space with extremely high energy. Scientists named it “Amaterasu”, after the Japanese sun goddess. It is the most powerful cosmic ray ever observed since the so-called “Oh my God particle.” What makes the story even more mysterious is that astronomers have no idea what Amaterasu dropped to Earth.

Martin Peters

Last updated:
11-24-23, 16:13

Osaka Metropolitan University, University of Utah

look. The discovery of the most powerful cosmic ray since the “Oh my God particle” surprises scientists

Scientists have shared an amazing discovery with the world New Publication In the leading scientific journal Science. And on May 27, 2021, they used the Telescope Array Observatory in Utah to observe how our atmosphere responds to a particle from space. This observatory specializes in monitoring cosmic rays, and consists of 507 detectors, each of which is the size of a ping-pong table. Together they cover a wide area of ​​no less than 700 square kilometers.

This was indeed a particle with an extremely high energy level of over 240 exaelectronvolts (EeV). That’s 244,000,000,000,000,000,000 electron volts. For comparison, the average electron energy in the Northern Lights is only 40,000 MeV. In fact, the particle contains millions of times more energy than the particles we can create in the most powerful particle accelerator ever, the Large Hadron Collider. This high-energy particle was named “Amaterasu”. This is a reference to the sun goddess from Japanese mythology. But it’s not the most energetic particle ever. That honor still goes to the 1981 Oh-My-God particle with a magnitude of 320 EeV. At first they wanted to call this the “WTF particle,” but then engineer John Walker came up with “Oh my God,” a reference to the Higgs boson’s “god particle” nickname.

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The Telescope Array Observatory in Utah consists of 507 detectors, each the size of a ping-pong table. © Cosmic Ray Research Institute, University of Tokyo

Therefore, observing cosmic rays with this amount of energy is a rare event. This is so rare that the astronomers who made the discovery initially thought something was wrong with the detectors, says Toshihiro Fujii of Osaka Metropolitan University. “When I realized how high the energy level of these cosmic rays was, I thought this was a mistake. After all, we had never observed such an energetic particle in the past three decades.

John Matthews of the University of Utah also confirms that this is an exceptional observation. “It’s constantly raining charged particles onto the Earth. Every second one flies through your palm when you extend your hand. But they all have low energy. One is high energy, that is, one per century per square kilometer. So the probability that one of these things will fly through your hand is very small.” .

If you traced the path of this new particle through space, you wouldn’t find anything that could have come from it

There is also a mysterious touch to this whole story. Because scientists have no idea where these cosmic rays come from. The particle appears to come from a region called the “local vacuum.” This is an empty region on the border of our Milky Way Galaxy. Strange according to astronomers, because you need a source containing huge amounts of energy, even an exploding star is not powerful enough, and it cannot be found there.

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“If you trace the path of this new particle and the Oh My God particle out in space, you won’t find anything with an energy level high enough to send this radiation toward Earth,” John Matthews explains. “Normally you should be able to look at the sky without any problem and say, ‘This is the source.’ That we can’t do that is the big mystery surrounding these particles that makes you think: What on Earth is going on?”

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According to astronomers, there is likely an unknown source emitting this type of high-energy radiation.
According to astronomers, there is likely an unknown source emitting this type of high-energy radiation. © Osaka Metropolitan University/Kyoto University/Ryuunosuke Takeshige

“It could be anomalies in the structure of space-time, or collisions of cosmic strings… “I’m just randomly listing crazy ideas from scientists,” says John Bales of the University of Utah. “There is currently no conventional logical explanation for what we have discovered.” Toshihiro Fujii also has some hypotheses: “Perhaps the particle comes from a gamma ray or a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. Or perhaps we should look instead at the collapse of dark matter or even a new particle whose physical properties don’t fit our standard model.”

According to astronomers, there is likely an unknown source somewhere in the local vacuum or our knowledge of the physics of these types of particles is simply insufficient. Further research should reveal this. So they hope that the Amaterasu particle will now provide them with new insights into high-energy cosmic rays and where they come from.

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