Rethinking the origin of cosmic rays

The PAMELA instrument. Credit: Piergiorgio Picozza

New results from an Italian space-based experiment have astronomers puzzled about the origins of cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are charged particles — protons and other atomic nuclei — that are accelerated to near-light speeds and continue on through the universe. The Earth is awash in them, with dozens of cosmic rays passing through your body every second of every day. Until now, the prevailing explanation for their origin was that they are accelerated by the remnants of supernovae, the spectacular final moments of dying high-mass stars. However, evidence gathered by the exquisitely sensitive Italian space-based instrument, called PAMELA, suggests this is not the case. It seems that different types of particles are accelerated in different ways, contrary to what is expected if they are accelerated by the same source.

It’s another entry in the “We didn’t expect that” file, which is part of what science is all about. And theorists always like the extra business.

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5 thoughts on “Rethinking the origin of cosmic rays

  1. “with dozens of cosmic rays passing through your body every second of every day”

    Totally off topic, but that reminded me of a short story by HP Lovecraft From Beyond.

    From wikipedia: “Tillinghast creates an electronic device that emits a resonance wave, which stimulates an affected person’s pineal gland, thereby allowing them to perceive planes of existence outside the scope of accepted reality.
    Sharing the experience with Tillinghast, the narrator becomes cognizant of a translucent, alien environment that overlaps our own recognized reality. From this perspective, he witnesses hordes of strange and horrific creatures that defy description. “

  2. You’ve just reminded me why I really don’t like Lovecraft. Although the concept of a translucent overlapping reality is a great sci-fi concept.

  3. You don’t like Lovecraft?

    You’re dead to me. ;)

    Nah, he’s his own cup of eldritch tea, not everyone likes the taste of the Old Ones!

  4. Lovecraft’s too dark for me. :-/

    I’m on a Clarke/Mars kick right now, and am thinking of giving Dune a whirl next. Have you read any Herbert?

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