Scientists have discovered a cosmic ray with the power of an “oh my god” particle.

Osaka Metropolitan University/L-Insight, Kyoto University/Ryuunosuke Takeshige

Artist’s illustration of extremely energetic cosmic rays observed by the collaborative telescope group led by the University of Utah and the University of Tokyo. He called it the “Amaterasu particle.”

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Space scientists seeking to understand the mysterious origins of powerful cosmic rays have discovered an extremely rare, high-energy particle that they believe traveled to Earth from outside the Milky Way.

The energy of this subatomic particle, invisible to the naked eye, is equivalent to dropping a brick on your toe from waist height, according to the study authors. New search It was published Thursday in the journal Science. The study found that it rivals the most energetic cosmic ray ever observed, the “Oh My God” particle that was discovered in 1991.

Cosmic rays are charged particles that travel through space and constantly fall on Earth. Low-energy cosmic rays can be emitted from the Sun, but extremely high-energy cosmic rays are exceptional. They are believed to travel to Earth from other galaxies and extragalactic sources.

“If you extend your hand, one cosmic ray passes through your palm every second, but that’s really low-energy stuff,” said study co-author John Matthews, a research professor at the University of Utah.

“When you get these really high-energy cosmic rays, it’s more like one per square kilometer per century. They’ll never get through your hands.”

Despite years of research, the exact origins of these high-energy particles remain unclear. They are thought to be linked to the most energetic phenomena in the universe, such as those involving black holes, gamma-ray bursts and active galactic nuclei, but the largest phenomena discovered so far appear to arise from vacuums or empty space – where violent celestial forces do not exist. Events happened.

The newly discovered particle, called the Amaterasu particle after the sun goddess in Japanese mythology, was observed by a cosmic ray observatory in Utah’s western desert known as the Telescope Array.

The telescope array, which became operational in 2008, consists of 507 surface detectors the size of a ping-pong table covering an area of ​​700 square kilometers (270 square miles).
It detected more than 30 high-energy cosmic rays but none larger than the Amaterasu particle, which struck the atmosphere above Utah on May 27, 2021, sending secondary particles falling to Earth where they were picked up by detectors, according to the study.

“You can look at the number of particles hitting each detector, and that tells you what the energy of the primary cosmic ray is,” Matthews said.

This event excited 23 surface detectors, with a calculated energy of about 244 eV. The “oh my goodness” particle discovered over 30 years ago was 320 exaelectronvolts.

For reference, 1 exaelectronvolt equals 1 billion gigaelectronvolt, and 1 gigaelectronvolt equals 1 billion electronvolt. This would make the Amaterasu particle 244,000,000,000,000,000,000 MeV. In comparison, the typical energy of an electron in an aurora is 40,000 MeV, According to NASA.

High-energy cosmic rays carry tens of millions of times more energy than any man-made particle accelerator such as a particle accelerator. Large Hadron ColliderGlenys Farrar, a professor of physics at New York University, explained that it is the most powerful accelerator ever built.

“What is needed is a region with very high magnetic fields – like the Large Hadron Collider, but natural. The conditions required are really exceptional, so the sources are very, very rare, and the particles are scattered throughout the vast universe, so the chances of Its impact with the ground is minimal.” Email.

The atmosphere largely protects humans from any harmful effects from particles, even cosmic rays Sometimes it causes computer malfunction. particles, and space radiation more broadly, They pose a greater risk to astronauts, with the potential to cause structural damage to DNA and alter many cellular processes. According to NASA,.

The source of these ultra-energy particles mystifies scientists.

Matthews, a spokesman for the Telescope Array Collaboration, said the two largest cosmic rays on record appeared “rather randomly” — when their paths are traced, there appears to be nothing high enough energy to produce such particles. The Amaterasu particle, specifically, appears to have originated from what is known as the local void, an empty region of space bordering the Milky Way.

“If you look at the two higher-energy events — the one we just found, the ‘Oh My God’ particle — they don’t seem to be pointing to anything. It has to be something relatively close by. Astronomers using visible telescopes can’t see anything big,” Matthews said. And really violent.”

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“It comes from what feels like a local blank space. It’s a void. So what the hell is going on?”

An expansion of the telescope array may provide some answers. Once completed, 500 new detectors will allow the telescope array to capture showers of cosmic ray particles across an area of ​​2,900 square kilometers (about 1,120 square miles) — an area roughly the size of planet Earth. rhode islandAccording to a statement from the University of Utah.

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