The detection of cosmic rays is rare – however the latest detection is even rarer as it appears to be going in the wrong direction.
Cosmic rays are bombarding the Earth every day and are measured at observing sites across the world, with the most notable being located at the Earths south pole.
Not to be fooled by their historical name, cosmic rays generally refer to high energy particles with mass whereas high energy in the form of gamma rays and/or X-rays are photons. These cosmic particles were discovered in 1912 by Victor Hess when he ascended to 5300 meters above sea level in a hot air balloon and detected significantly increased levels of ionization in the atmosphere.
In many cases the cosmic rays are not directly observed and it is in fact the secondary effects such as gamma rays or neutrinos that are detected. Efforts to detect these allusive ‘rays’ are therefore being made at a range of observing sites such as NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) and IceCube South Pole Neutrino observatory.
As rare as these detections are, two such detections were made in March 2016 at ANITA. The only problem being that they are going the wrong direction – that is instead of bombarding the Earth from space they are emanating from the Earth’s South Pole. The scientists are quite simply perplexed. One assumption is that the particles are either neutrinos that rarely ever bang into matter (aka sterile neutrinos) or atypical dark matter distributions. However, last month supporting observations were made at the IceCube observatory – which upon further analysis strongly suggests that those events may be due to physics beyond the standard model. It will be interesting to see what further observations and analysis reveal!
Amira Val Baker