Science Café Cleveland presents


"Capturing the Cosmic Ray Monsters: Big Science in a Big Universe"


APRIL 12, 2010




Dr. Corbin Covault

Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics (CERCA), CWRU


Ms. Yvette Cendes
Department of Physics, CWRU




The expression "Big Science" is often used to describe major experimental projects that involve hundreds of researchers such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is now beginning to smash energetic particles together with the aim of understanding the fundamental nature of matter and energy. But the energies of particles created in atom smashers, such as the LHC, are still tiny in comparison, about 1,000 times smaller, than the energies associated with Cosmic Rays that are seen arriving to the Earth from all directions in the Universe. What are these particles? Where do they come from? What sort of astrophysical "monster" is out there in the Universe that is capable of concentrating so much energy into individual subatomic particles? How does this actually work?


Careful measurement of the properties of individual cosmic rays is likely to lead to a resolution of this decades-old mystery of the origin of the highest energy cosmic rays. But detecting these kinds of particles requires a large array of specialized detectors spread out over thousands of square miles of ground that capture the subatomic debris that results when a cosmic ray enters the top of the atmosphere. The approach is similar to experiments such as the LHC in that a major instrument is required that involves the collaborative efforts of hundreds of astrophysicists.


Such a major experiment has been built, the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory in Argentina. We will describe the first results from Auger and what these tell us about the nature of the "monsters" in the universe that create these most energetic of all particles. We also discuss the process of building and sustaining an international collaboration to construct and operate this kind of large scientific project.




Date: April 12, 2010
Time: Drinks start at 6:30 PM, discussion starts around 7:00 PM
Location: Tasting Room, Great Lakes Brewing Company (2701 Carroll Ave, Cleveland)


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