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    News Meet “Amaterasu”: Astronomers detect highest energy cosmic ray since 1991

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    Artist’s illustration of extensive air showers induced by ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. Credit: Toshihiro Fujii/L-INSIGHT/Kyoto University
    Artist’s illustration of extensive air showers induced by ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. Credit: Toshihiro Fujii/L-INSIGHT/Kyoto University

    Astronomers involved with the Telescope Array experiment in Utah's West Desert have detected an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray (UHECR) with a whpping energy level of 244 EeV, according to a new paper published in the journal Science. It's the most energetic cosmic ray detected since 1991, when astronomers detected the so-called "Oh-My-God' particle, with energies of an even more impressive 320 EeV. Astronomers have dubbed this latest event the "Amaterasu" particle, after the Shinto sun goddess said to have created Japan. One might even call it the "Oh-My-Goddess" particle.

    Cosmic rays are highly energetic subatomic particles traveling through space near the speed of light. Technically, a cosmic ray is just an atomic nucleus made up of a proton or a cluster of protons and neutrons. Most originate from the Sun, but others come from objects outside our solar system. When these rays strike the Earth’s atmosphere, they break apart into showers of other particles (both positively and negatively charged).

    They were first discovered in 1912 by Austrian physicist Victor Hess via a series of ascents in a hydrogen balloon to take measurements of radiation in the atmosphere with an electroscope. He found that the rate of ionization was a good three times the rate at sea level, thereby disproving a competing theory that this radiation came from the rocks of Earth. If you've ever seen a cloud chamber in a science museum, cosmic ray tracks look like wispy little white lines, similar to tiny jet contrails.


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