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Scientists to Test Radar as a Cost-Efficient New Means of Detecting Particles from Outer Space

NSF Award:

Detection of Cosmic Ray Airshowers by Bistatic Radar  (University of Utah)

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Scientists in Utah have commissioned a radar transmitter to detect the highest energy cosmic rays--a first step toward a new, much more cost-efficient sensing method. Cosmic rays are extremely fast-moving particles that bombard the earth from space.

The initiative could transform the field of ultra-high-energy cosmic ray research and enable future observatories to be built at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods.

The University of Utah and Brookhaven National Laboratory commissioned the transmitter station, located in Delta, Utah. The receiver station is under construction, and has begun characterizing the transmitter output.

Earth is being bombarded by energetic cosmic radiation, likely created in the universe's most violent processes, such as explosion of supernovae. Currently, cosmic ray researchers use detectors covering thousands of square kilometers of the earth's surface and costing tens of millions of dollars. Thus, the sheer scale of existing observatories is a limiting factor to our understanding.

The Utah radar project seeks to develop a technique in which an array of radio antennas remotely monitors a portion of the earth's surface by detecting the radar echo of plasma trails induced by cosmic rays.

The key to success at this stage will be a dual sensing. The researchers hope to "hear" a cosmic ray air shower using the new method--that is, via radio echo--at the same time they detect it using the conventional telescope-array sensors.



  • cosmic rays
Simon Swordy (U. Chicago), NASA

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