Scientists celebrate inauguration of Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina, plan for second phase in Colorado
GOLDEN, Colo., Nov. 14, 2008 – Scientists of the Pierre Auger Observatory, a project to study the highest-energy cosmic rays, will celebrate the inauguration of the southern site of their observatory in Malargüe, Argentina, today. The event will mark the completion of the first phase of the Observatory construction and the beginning of the project’s second phase, which includes plans for a northern hemisphere site in Colorado and enhancements to the southern hemisphere site.
Mines associate physics professors Fred Sarazin and Lawrence Wiencke are members of the Pierre Auger Collaboration and are strongly involved with the plans of the collaboration to build a second observatory watching the northern sky in southeastern Colorado. According to Wiencke, the observatory will be about the size of the state of Massachusetts.
As early as next year, they will lead the assembly and deployment of a test array of detectors (or "tanks") in an area south of Lamar, Colo., as well as carry out measurements to assess the properties of the atmosphere above the site.
"This is just the first step," said Sarazin." We are both looking forward to making the whole array become a reality."
The inauguration celebration in Argentina includes presentations on the origins of the project, the construction of the experiment and the latest science results.
The Pierre Auger Observatory is exploring the mysteries of the highest-energy cosmic rays — charged particles showering the Earth at energies 10 million times higher than the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator. Until now, there has been no consensus on the origin of these highest-energy cosmic rays.
To witness these extremely rare events, the Pierre Auger Collaboration began the construction of its Southern Observatory in the year 2000. The project consists of an array of 1,600 detectors spread over 3,000 square kilometers in Argentina’s Mendoza Province, just east of the Andes Mountains. Surrounding the array is a set of 24 fluorescence telescopes that view the faint ultraviolet light emitted by the cosmic-ray shower particles as they cascade through the atmosphere. The collaboration includes more than 400 physicists from 70 institutions in 17 countries, which have shared the construction cost of approximately $53 million.
The Pierre Auger collaboration published its first physics results in the fall of 2007, revealing new insights into the properties of the highest-energy particles in the universe. The collaboration found that the arrival directions of the highest-energy cosmic rays are anisotropic. The arrival directions correlate with the distribution of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). Several science organizations selected this remarkable result as one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in 2007.
The collaboration used its growing detector array to measure the cosmic-ray energy spectrum at the highest energies, achieving higher precision than any previous experiment. The Auger scientists found a fall-off of the flux at the highest energies. This is consistent with an idea, proposed about 40 years ago, that cosmic rays interact with photons of the ubiquitous microwave background radiation on their way through the universe. New limits on the photon and neutrino content in cosmic rays have put stringent limits on theories of cosmic-ray origins.