New method could revolutionize cosmic-ray physics

Bathrooms offer us the comfort of refreshing showers, while space showers bring joy to astrophysicists. A team from Osaka Metropolitan University, led by Associate Professor Toshihiro Fujii and graduate student Fraser Bradfield, has introduced a groundbreaking method to observe cosmic-ray extensive air showers in remarkable detail, offering new perspectives on the universe’s most energetic particles.

Their findings, published in Scientific Reports on October 12, 2023, highlight the remarkable capabilities of the Subaru Telescope, perched on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano. Although this telescope was originally designed for observational astronomy, it can now capture extensive air showers with exceptional precision, thanks to the research team’s innovative approach.

Ordinarily, cosmic rays appear as disruptive “tracks” in astronomical images, often dismissed as noise. However, this team focuses on that so-called “noise.” They meticulously analyzed around 17,000 images taken between 2014 and 2020 and pinpointed 13 images showcasing extensive air showers. These images revealed a significantly higher number of particle tracks than the norm.

Professor Fujii explains that traditional observation methods struggle to distinguish between the various particles composing extensive air showers. In contrast, their method holds promise in determining the nature of individual particles.

Moreover, Professor Fujii expresses the potential of integrating their technique with conventional approaches to advance the understanding of extensive air showers. This could lead to searches for dark matter and exotic particles, shedding light on the transition of the universe into a matter-dominated era.

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