Newswise — In 1991, the University of Utah Fly’s Eye experiment detected the highest-energy cosmic ray ever observed. Later dubbed the Oh-My-God particle, the cosmic ray’s energy shocked astrophysicists. Nothing in our galaxy had the power to produce it, and the particle had more energy than was theoretically possible for cosmic rays traveling to Earth from other galaxies. Simply put, the particle should not exist.
The Telescope Array has since observed more than 30 ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, though none approaching the Oh-My-God-level energy. No observations have yet revealed their origin or how they are able to travel to the Earth.
On May 27, 2021, the Telescope Array experiment detected the second-highest extreme-energy cosmic ray. At 2.4 x 1020eV, the energy of this single subatomic particle is equivalent to dropping a brick on your toe from waist height. Led by the University of Utah (the U) and the University of Tokyo, the Telescope Array consists of 507 surface detector stations arranged in a square grid that covers 700 km2 (~270 miles2) outside of Delta, Utah in the state’s West Desert. The event triggered 23 detectors at the north-west region of the Telescope Array, splashing across 48 km2 (18.5 mi2). Its arrival direction appeared to be from the Local Void, an empty area of space bordering the Milky Way galaxy.
“The particles are so high energy, they shouldn’t be affected by galactic and extra-galactic magnetic fields. You should be able to point to where they come from in the sky,” said John Matthews, Telescope Array co-spokesperson at the U and co-author of the study. “But in the case of the Oh-My-God particle and this new particle, you trace its trajectory to its source and there’s nothing high energy enough to have produced it. That’s the mystery of this—what the heck is going on?”
In their observation that published on Nov. 24, 2023, in the journal Science, an international collaboration of researchers describe the ultra-high-energy cosmic ray, evaluate its characteristics, and conclude that the rare phenomena might follow particle physics unknown to science. The researchers named it the Amaterasu particle after the sun goddess in Japanese mythology. The Oh-My-God and the Amaterasu particles were detected using different observation techniques, confirming that while rare, these ultra-high energy events are real.
“These events seem like they’re coming from completely different places in the sky. It’s not like there’s one mysterious source,” said John Belz, professor at the U and co-author of the study. “It could be defects in the structure of spacetime, colliding cosmic strings. I mean, I’m just spit-balling crazy ideas that people are coming up with because there’s not a conventional explanation.”
Natural particle accelerators
Cosmic rays are echoes of violent celestial events that have stripped matter to its subatomic structures and hurled it through universe at nearly the speed of light. Essentially cosmic rays are charged particles with a wide range of energies consisting of positive protons, negative electrons, or entire atomic nuclei that travel through space and rain down onto Earth nearly constantly.
Cosmic rays hit Earth’s upper atmosphere and blasts apart the nucleus of oxygen and nitrogen gas, generating many secondary particles. These travel a short distance in the atmosphere and repeat the process, building a shower of billions of secondary particles that scatter to the surface. The footprint of this secondary shower is massive and requires that detectors cover an area as large as the Telescope Array. The surface detectors utilize a suite of instrumentation that gives researchers information about each cosmic ray; the timing of the signal shows its trajectory and the amount of charged particles hitting each detector reveals the primary particle’s energy.
Because particles have a charge, their flight path resembles a ball in a pinball machine as they zigzag against the electromagnetic fields through the cosmic microwave background. It’s nearly impossible to trace the trajectory of most cosmic rays, which lie on the low- to middle-end of the energy spectrum. Even high-energy cosmic rays are distorted by the microwave background. Particles with Oh-My-God and Amaterasu energy blast through intergalactic space relatively unbent. Only the most powerful of celestial events can produce them.
“Things that people think of as energetic, like supernova, are nowhere near energetic enough for this. You need huge amounts of energy, really high magnetic fields to confine the particle while it gets accelerated,” said Matthews.
Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays must exceed 5 x 1019 eV. This means that a single subatomic particle carries the same kinetic energy as a major league pitcher’s fast ball and has tens of millions of times more energy than any human-made particle accelerator can achieve. Astrophysicists calculated this theoretical limit, known as the Greisen–Zatsepin–Kuzmin (GZK) cutoff, as the maximum energy a proton can hold traveling over long distances before the effect of interactions of the microwave background radiation take their energy. Known source candidates, such as active galactic nuclei or black holes with accretion disks emitting particle jets, tend to be more than 160 million light years away from Earth. The new particle’s 2.4 x 1020 eV and the Oh-My-God particle’s 3.2 x 1020 eV easily surpass the cutoff.
Researchers also analyze cosmic ray composition for clues of its origins. A heavier particle, like iron nuclei, are heavier, have more charge and are more susceptible to bending in a magnetic field than a lighter particle made of protons from a hydrogen atom. The new particle is likely a proton. Particle physics dictates that a cosmic ray with energy beyond the GZK cutoff is too powerful for the microwave background to distort its path, but back tracing its trajectory points towards empty space.
“Maybe magnetic fields are stronger than we thought, but that disagrees with other observations that show they’re not strong enough to produce significant curvature at these ten-to-the-twentieth electron volt energies,” said Belz. “It’s a real mystery.”
Expanding the footprint
The Telescope Array is uniquely positioned to detect ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. It sits at about 1,200 m (4,000 ft), the elevation sweet-spot that allows secondary particles maximum development, but before they start to decay. Its location in Utah’s West Desert provides ideal atmospheric conditions in two ways: the dry air is crucial because humidity will absorb the ultraviolet light necessary for detection; and the region’s dark skies are essential, as light pollution will create too much noise and obscure the cosmic rays.
Astrophysicists are still baffled by the mysterious phenomena. The Telescope Array is in the middle of an expansion that that they hope will help crack the case. Once completed, 500 new scintillator detectors will expand the Telescope Array will sample cosmic ray-induced particle showers across 2,900 km2 (1,100 mi2 ), an area nearly the size of Rhode Island. The larger footprint will hopefully capture more events that will shed light on what’s going on.
The Close Encounter of Asteroid 2008 OS7: Understanding Near Earth Objects and Potentially Hazardous Asteroids
Asteroid 2008 OS7, a cosmic visitor, will pass Earth safely, sparking curiosity about our cosmic neighborhood.
On the afternoon of February 2, 2024, a cosmic visitor will make its closest approach to Earth. Named 2008 OS7, this asteroid will dash past our planet at a staggering speed of about 18.2 km/s, or roughly 40,700 mph. To put this into perspective, this velocity far surpasses that of a speeding bullet, which typically ranges between 600 and 2,000 mph.
Asteroids, remnants from the early formation of our solar system, mostly inhabit the Asteroid Belt, positioned between Mars and Jupiter. While most are relatively small, some, like the colossal Ceres measuring about 600 miles across, are truly massive. Occasionally, due to gravitational forces from Jupiter or collisions, these space rocks find themselves hurtling into the inner solar system, leading to encounters with Earth.
2008 OS7 falls into the category of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and is also labeled a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) due to its size and close proximity to Earth. NEOs are defined as celestial objects within 30 million miles of Earth, encompassing a staggering 31,000 items within our solar system. PHAs, a more critical subset, are those that approach within 4.6 million miles and boast a diameter exceeding 460 feet. Currently, NASA keeps tabs on around 2,350 PHAs.
Read Newsweek’s story.: https://www.newsweek.com/nasa-asteroid-empire-state-building-size-flyby-1865684
Martin Barstow, a professor of astrophysics and space science at the University of Leicester, explained the PHA classification to Newsweek, underlining the potential regional damage such an object could cause if it were to collide with Earth. Despite this classification, 2008 OS7 poses no threat to our planet, as it will not come anywhere near colliding with us.
Minjae Kim, a research fellow at the University of Warwick, emphasized in a statement to Newsweek that although 2008 OS7 has been labeled as a PHA, it won’t enter Earth’s atmosphere. Kim also pointed out the multitude of asteroids in our solar system, with approximately 2,350 classified as PHAs, and highlighted the next significant approach to Earth by a PHA, which will be the 99942 Apophis on April 14, 2029.
For sky enthusiasts hoping to catch a glimpse of this celestial passerby, 2008 OS7 will be disappointingly difficult to spot. Kim noted that the asteroid’s orbit around the sun takes approximately 962 days, and its estimated diameter ranges from 0.221 to 0.494 kilometers, placing it in the category of a small to moderately-sized asteroid, akin to the size of a football field. Unfortunately, due to their faintness, asteroids are generally challenging to detect using current observational techniques, making them virtually impossible to see with the naked eye.
As we prepare for this celestial event, it serves as a reminder of the intricate dance of celestial bodies around our planet and the ongoing work to monitor and understand the potential impact of near-Earth objects. While 2008 OS7 will shoot past our planet without incident, it underscores the importance of continued vigilance and exploration of our cosmic neighborhood.
Meteoric Marvel: The Berlin 2024 BX1 Asteroid Encounter
Berlin’s cosmic spectacle: 2024 BX1 asteroid fragments unearthed, igniting global fascination and scientific inquiry.
Early on January 21, 2024, the tranquil skies over Berlin, Germany, were briefly interrupted by a spectacular celestial event. A small asteroid, now identified as 2024 BX1, made a dramatic entrance into Earth’s atmosphere, captivating local observers with a brilliant burst of light as it exploded upon entry. The aftermath of this cosmic visitation has sparked a flurry of excitement as fragments of the meteorite have been discovered in the countryside west of Berlin.
The Natural History Museum Berlin announced on January 26, 2024, that suspected fragments of the asteroid, approximately the size of a walnut, had been recovered by dedicated hunters. This discovery has ignited a surge of interest and enthusiasm within the scientific community and among enthusiasts of astronomy and space exploration worldwide.
In the wake of this extraordinary event, numerous meteorite hunters have taken to social media to share their own remarkable finds, further fueling the public’s fascination with this cosmic occurrence. The collective effort to recover these celestial fragments underscores the enduring allure of space and the unwavering human curiosity about the mysteries beyond our planet.
The discovery of the 2024 BX1 asteroid fragments not only provides a rare opportunity for scientists to study the composition and origins of these extraterrestrial remnants, but it also serves as a poignant reminder of the profound and unpredictable forces at play in our universe.
As we witness the convergence of scientific inquiry, public engagement, and the magnificence of the cosmos, the Berlin 2024 BX1 asteroid encounter stands as a testament to the enduring enchantment of space exploration and the unyielding spirit of discovery that unites us all.
Stay tuned for further updates as the scientific community delves deeper into the secrets held within these newfound celestial treasures, shedding light on the enigmatic journey of the 2024 BX1 asteroid and offering invaluable insights into the boundless wonders of our universe.
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The Great Solar Eclipse of 2024: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Celestial Spectacle
The 2024 total solar eclipse: a rare event uniting millions, set to create unforgettable memories for generations.
In just 75 days, North America will bear witness to a rare and awe-inspiring event—the total solar eclipse. This celestial phenomenon will cast parts of 15 U.S. states, alongside sections of Mexico and Canada, into an extraordinary darkness during the day. This upcoming eclipse brings to mind the monumental solar eclipse of January 24, 1925, which left an indelible mark on the U.S. northeast, particularly in New York City.
Back in 1925, the eclipse divided the city, creating a unique dichotomy between those who experienced totality and those who witnessed only a partial eclipse. The boundary of the path of totality, initially predicted to be 83rd Street, was expected to split Manhattan into two distinct viewing experiences. However, the actual boundary was revealed to be 96th Street, and the eclipse arrived four seconds behind schedule, challenging the preconceived notions of the event.
As we eagerly anticipate the upcoming eclipse, it’s essential to reflect on the lessons learned from historical mispredictions. The precision of modern eclipse predictions has significantly improved, yet numerous variables still influence each event. Factors such as the moon’s terrain, observer’s elevation, Earth’s rotation speed, and the apparent size of the sun contribute to the uniqueness of each eclipse. Understanding these variables is crucial, especially for those living on the edge of totality, as seen in cities like San Antonio and Austin, Texas.
The upcoming eclipse provides an opportunity for cities like Rochester, New York, to relive a momentous event that last occurred in 1925. With preparations underway for the ROC the Eclipse festival at the Rochester Museum & Science Center, the community eagerly awaits the chance to witness a 3 minutes 40 seconds totality—a significantly longer duration than in 1925.
The anticipation for this celestial event serves as a unifying force, offering a positive shared experience for millions. As Dan Schneiderman, Eclipse Partnership Manager at the Rochester Museum & Science Center, aptly puts it, “We want people to have that positive shared experience they always remember, so random strangers can ask each other ‘where were you during that total solar eclipse?'”
The forthcoming total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for millions across the 15 fortunate U.S. states. It presents a chance to marvel at the wonders of the universe, uniting communities in an extraordinary shared experience. As we approach this historic event, let us embrace the opportunity to witness the splendor of the cosmos and create lasting memories that will be cherished for generations to come.
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