Astronomers have detected an extremely high-energy cosmic ray dubbed the “Sun Goddess particle” slamming into Earth, the most powerful such particle reaching our planet since 1991. The cosmic ray, detected by the Telescope Array observatory in Utah on September 22, carries an unprecedented energy of 1.4 exa-electronvolts (EeV), making it the second-most energetic cosmic ray ever observed.
Particle’s Source Remains a Mystery
The cosmic ray’s origin is unknown, puzzling scientists. Based on its trajectory, the particle appears to have traveled from a “local void” region surprisingly lacking matter. Most ultra-high-energy cosmic rays come from energetic astrophysical sources like supernova remnants or active galactic nuclei.
“Such an extremely high-energy cosmic ray coming from the local void is very surprising,” said John Matthews, spokesperson for the Telescope Array collaboration. “The void is relatively empty space, so there’s no obvious source for an ultra-high-energy particle. This event challenges our understanding of such cosmic rays.”
Further analysis will probe whether the void could host unknown ultra-high-energy particle sources. Alternate explanations like particle acceleration during travel also need exploration.
Extreme Energies Raise Questions
The sun goddess particle, named “Amaterasu” after the Japanese Shinto sun goddess, has over 40 million times more energy than particles produced by the Large Hadron Collider. Cosmic rays with energies above 57 EeV – dubbed “Oh-My-God” particles – raise questions about physics limits.
“When we detect ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, we try to retrace their steps back into space and figure out exactly where they came from,” said physicist Angela Olinto of the University of Chicago. “This one came from nowhere we can identify. It’s very mysterious.”
Rare Observation Provides Clues
Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays strike Earth so rarely – merely one per square kilometer annually – that detecting them requires vast detectors like the 700-square-kilometer Telescope Array. Study co-author Gregory Snow believes the sun goddess particle offers vital clues.
“Such rare particles provide unique tests of, and windows to, fundamental physics,” said Snow. “We are working to understand whether this cosmic ray fits well within known physics or if there are hints for new physics.”
Understanding the particle may uncover new physics, possibly even indicating cosmic ray origins like evaporating primordial black holes. With more data, scientists using multi-messenger astrophysics could finally pinpoint ultra-high-energy cosmic ray sources.
Table: Known Ultra-High-Energy Cosmic Rays
|Amaterasu / Sun Goddess Particle
Timeline of Detections
The detection of the sun goddess particle represents just the fifth ultra-high-energy cosmic ray observed since 1962. This table summarizes the discoveries:
|Volcano Ranch, New Mexico
|Difficult to explain
|Indicates extragalactic origin
|Extreme energy from void
More Discoveries Ahead
With upgraded detectors covering thousands of square kilometers, experts expect increased ultra-high-energy cosmic ray detections in the 2020s and 2030s. This will provide enhanced understanding, especially if neutrinos and gravitational waves are observed accompanying the particles.
“Multi-messenger observations provide deeper insight, with neutrinos indicating hadronic particle interactions and gravitational waves pointing to violent astrophysical events,” Matthews explained. “Associating messengers with cosmic rays will finally reveal their mysterious origins.”
Conclusion: An Intriguing Mystery
The sun goddess particle represents a provocative cosmic ray discovery – an ultra-high-energy particle from an unexpected empty void location. With more data, scientists hope this ghostly ray will shed light on physics frontiers, cosmic particle acceleration mechanisms, and the violent high-energy universe. Its detection underscores that the cosmos remains filled with mysteries, awaiting determined minds to unravel them.
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