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No. 95: Sep-Oct 1994

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This was the big one, but where did it come from?

October 15, 1991. American Southwest. Photomultipliers in the Fly's Eye telescopes 100 kilometers southwest of Salt Lake City recorded the havoc wrought in the upper atmosphere by the most energetic cosmic-ray particle ever measured. When this tiny subatomic particle slammed into air molecules, the ensuing debris caused the surrounding atmosphere to fluoresce. The amount of light produced indicated that this cosmic ray had an energy of 3 x 1020 electron volts -- that's equivalent to the energy of a bowling ball dropped from waist level. Now that's a lot of energy for a subatomic particle!

Because cosmic rays normally lose energy as they collide with photons in their cosmic wanderings, astrophysicists believe that "the big one" had to have a recent, nearby origin in order to still be so energetic. But no one has any idea where it could have come from or how it might have acquired so much energy. Somewhere out there in nearby space there may be a natural particle accelerator orders of magnitude more powerful than our biggest earthbound atom smashers.

(Anonymous; "The Deepening Mystery of Cosmic-Ray Origins," Sky and Telescope, 87:12, May 1994.)

Comment. Actually, the source of "the big one" need not have been nearby and recent. All anomalists will recognize that this is an assumption based upon the particle's extremely high energy when it hit the earth. Why couldn't the particle's original energy have been much higher than 3 x 1020 ev? Then, it could have wandered for eons. After all, it is apparent that we are already dealing with an accelerating mechanism far beyond terrestrial experience. Who's to say what its real potential is?

Reference. Cosmic-ray anomalies are cataloged in category ATF in Stars, Galaxies, Cosmos. For ordering information, visit here.

From Science Frontiers #95, SEP-OCT 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss