A local news channel recently ran a short segment on the expansion of the Telescope Array in southern Utah. Fox 13 News spoke with Pierre Sokolsky about the expansion and what scientists hope to learn by using the new, larger array of surface detectors. Professor Sokolsky also touches on the nature of cosmic rays and the unique nature of observatories designed to detect them:
DELTA, Utah — If you take a drive to the west desert of Delta, you’ll find a sea of stars above, and, at your feet, what appears to be a sea of hospital beds.
These two things actually work together, and University of Utah researchers say it’s for good reason.
West of Delta, Utah you’ll find one of the largest observatories in the world, and scientists at the U of U said they’re going to make it even bigger.
“It’s a very unique kind of observatory,” said U of U Professor Pierre Sokolsky, who studies physics and astronomy. “It’s not like what astronomers usually use, or like the Hubble Space Telescope.”
Instead of pictures, it captures light from particles that bombard our atmosphere called cosmic rays, and it turns it into signals a computer can analyze.
“They’re raining on us all the time,” Sokolsky said. “In fact, as we’re sitting here, there’s one of these particles going through our heads per second.”
The particles are a very low-grade radiation, but, don’t worry: Our bodies have adapted to deal with them.
The hospital bed-like counters and three large telescopes measuring them span for miles already, and with the help of the National Science Foundation and the Japanese government, the research facility will quadruple in size and spread out on space run by the Bureau of Land Management.
The researchers tracking the particles and data they gather are looking for certain particles that move with so much energy, it’s almost at the speed of light.
“They`re coming to us, not from the sun… and not even from our galaxy, they’re coming from other galaxies,” Sokolsky said.
The goal is to identify exactly where these particles are coming from and maybe eventually learn how they can have that much energy.
“We think that in another 5 or 6 years, we’re going to be able to pinpoint where these monstrously energetic particles are coming from and maybe learn what the science is behind those energies, maybe it’s something that we can actually use,” Sokolsky said.
He added: “I can’t tell you that this is going to solve the energy crisis or global warming or any of these things, but it is guaranteed that we’re going to learn things that we just didn’t know before, and where that leads, nobody knows.”
There may not be a clear finish line to this project, but to Professor Sokolsky, that’s what makes it so exciting.
“We know from history, that whenever you get to the frontier, you’re going to learn something really interesting,” he said.
The installation of the new counters is expected to begin by next fall.