CHICAGO — Scientists are set to track two mysterious particles from the deepest corners of outer space which routinely enter Earth’s atmosphere.
A team of researchers at the University of Chicago say their balloon device, named EUSO-SPB2, will soon float 110,000 feet above the Earth in an attempt to analyze two “tiny, highly energetic particles” which run into our atmosphere. The high-altitude balloon will carry two separate telescopes in an effort to study each “messenger from outer space” individually.
One of the particles is an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray while the second is called a neutrino. The researchers say both particles enter Earth’s atmosphere after traveling billions of light-years, from outside of the Milky Way galaxy.
They may provide new clues about deep space. Specifically, the particles have been accelerated into such super-charged high energy elsewhere in the universe and will hopefully carry useful information about their deep space origins and travels. The scientists add that little is currently known about the neutrino and cosmic rays because they rarely interact with matter at all. Instead, both particles act more like ghosts and pass straight through all matter or other earthly detection devices.
“This is an important step towards solving the mystery of where in the universe these [energetic] particles are coming from, and how they could possibly be made,” says Distinguished Service Professor Angela Olinto in a university release. “These are particles that we simply cannot create ourselves on Earth; we need to use these space travelers to learn more about them.”
“We think both these particles come from outside the Milky Way and even from faraway galaxies. But no one has been able to trace them back to their source in the sky,” the researchers add.
Breaking new ground in 2023
The University of Chicago researchers note that the EUSO-SPB2 device will feature gravitational wave detectors in an effort to get readings from the mysterious outer space messengers. The device will ultimately ride wind currents which are about 20 miles above the southern hemisphere of the planet.
“The more atmosphere you can observe, the better, since ultra-high energy cosmic rays are extremely rare,” says University of Chicago physicist Rebecca Diesing, who is helping to build one of the instruments that will ride aboard the balloon. “A square kilometer patch of Earth will be hit by one of these particles only about once per century.”
The Chicago team will be joined by 280 scientists from 13 countries and 77 separate academic institutions. The high-altitude balloon, which is in its final construction and assembly stages, is set for launch in the spring of 2023 and will go into the atmosphere from a New Zealand launch pad.