We spend our lives being bombarded by sub-atomic particles. Each second, about five travel through the top of your head. Sub-atomic particles are produced in the Earth’s atmosphere by cosmic rays, which are high-energy particles that start out life in deep space.
artist's impression of cosmic rays arriving in the Earth's
atmosphere. Credit: NASA
Cosmic rays were discovered 100 years ago, but their origin
still remains a mystery. In 1912, Victor Hess made his discovery by
taking simple radiation detectors up in a hydrogen balloon. Now
these particles, their origin and their effects on Earth are
studied with experiments up mountains, in space, underground and in
How it works
Cosmic rays are important for understanding the energy balance
of the universe and the evolution of its building blocks. They are
thought to come from some of the most violent places in the
universe, such as jets of material launched from black holes or the
remains of supernovae explosions.
On Earth, cosmic rays almost certainly played a role when life
first began and during subsequent human evolution. They may also
cause lightning and might even have a role in climate change.
This exhibit, which involves school teachers and pupils,
presents experiments which study cosmic rays, including Auger, HESS
and CTA. Deep in the Boulby Mine in Yorkshire, the SKY-ZERO
experiment is investigating the role of cosmic rays in cloud
formation by performing controlled experiments. In schools,
research has concentrated on measuring cosmic ray flux on the
ground and in space.
In the slideshow below, click on any of the images to read its
This video shows sixth form students from Simon Langton Grammar
School for boys talk about the LUCID project.
This video is an animation of the construction of the school
This video is a tour of Auger with commentary by Professor Alan
This video is a reconstruction of a cosmic ray event traced back
to a super massive black hole in the galaxy Centaurus A.