UK team at forefront of efforts to solve cosmic mystery

17/01/2019

UK team at forefront of efforts to solve cosmic mystery

A new particle detector developed by UK scientists could help to answer long-standing questions about the cosmic rays that come from deep space and enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

While the existence of cosmic rays, formed of highly energetic atomic nuclei and other particles, has been known for more than a century, much is still unknown about their origin or the particles they are formed of.

Now an international team, led by The University of Manchester’s Dr Justin Bray, have developed the particle detector to overcome challenges currently faced in detecting the rays, which travel through space at almost the speed of light and are very rare.

The particle detector developed at The University of Manchester will allow the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope to study the rays. The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by the SKA Organisation based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester.

The particle detector will be deployed and tested at the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope in Western Australia, which will also be the site of the low frequency antennas of the SKA.

UK Research and Innovation’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) represents the UK as part of the SKA consortium and funds the UK involvement in what will the largest-ever radio astronomy project.

Dr Bray, who is based at Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics and developed the particle detector alongside international collaborators, said: “The key attribute of cosmic rays that we'd like to measure is what types of particles they are. We know that they're atomic nuclei, stripped of all their electrons, with a mixture of elements ranging from hydrogen up to iron.

“But the exact mix of what they’re made of is difficult to discern. If we can find that out it will provide key information about how they're produced and how they get to us.”

For more information on the SKA project visit the STFC website.


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