OMG! A Cosmic Ray!
Have you ever wondered how many ways we have to bring home informations about the universe?
One may think about probes, orbiting satellites, rovers and all the techniques we have learned to master over time. All the data we collected helped us to put the scattered pieces together: in fact, when we try to understand our universe, we are actually just trying to solve a giant puzzle!
But what if I told you that the universe itself is trying to communicate with us, giving us some tips on how to understand more about it? What if I told you that it is sending us dms all the time? And, I mean, A LOT OF THEM. Billions of them, every second, reach the Earth.
These messages are called Cosmic Rays.
But what are they?
Where do they come from?
Which informations do they carry with them?
Follow me on this journey to know the answer to all these questions, and to fall in love with Cosmic Rays: I promise you won’t be able to resist them.
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Let’s be clear.
Cosmic Rays are not actually Rays: they’re a form of radiations.
Although they’re called so, they consist of high-energy emitted particles. These particles are raining down on us from space: they are little bits of atoms whizzing by us, even through us, all the time.
In this exact moment, you are having a shower of them. Did you bring your shower gel?
They are hitting us, but they aren’t causing our bodies any harm, so you don’t have to worry too much about them.
But sometimes they can, for example, cause malfunction to our computers. So you can blame them for making your computer crash.
Particles that are hitting us are actually called “secondary cosmic rays”, because they are a secondary product of swarms of primary cosmic rays created in the atmosphere, with interaction that typically produce a cascade of secondary particles starting from a single energetic particle.
One thing we certainly do know about cosmic rays is that they are comprised of extremely energetic charged particles like protons, alpha particles, and atomic nuclei like helium and iron, with miniscule proportions of antiparticles thrown into the mix.
It’s hard to imagine just how shocking the discovery of cosmic rays must have been to physicists in the early 1900s. The energies of these particles were monumental in comparison to those of every other particle they had observed until that point. For example, the average energy of a solar photon is approximately 1.4 electron volts (eV). For reference, a flying mosquito has an energy of about 1 trillion eV, or 1×1012 eV, but a mosquito is also much, much larger than a single particle. Meanwhile, an alpha particle emitted during the decay of Uranium-238 possess 4.27×10⁶ eV of energy.
Compare that to a cosmic ray proton, which has an energy of some 1×10²⁰ eV.
That means a proton can only reach that extreme, macroscopic energy by travelling at almost the speed of light. (try to think about the famous Einstein’s equation!)
Of the nuclei, about 90% are simple protons, 9% are alpha particles and 1% are the nuclei of heavier elements.A very small fraction are stable particles of antimatter, such as positrons or antiprotons. The precise nature of this remaining fraction is an area of active research.
But where do Cosmic Rays come from?
E KNOW THAT THEY COME FROM SOMEWHERE IN SPACE.
In 1911 and 1912 Austrian physicist Victor Hess made a series of ascents in a balloon to take measurements of radiation in the atmosphere. He was looking for the source of an ionizing radiation that registered on an electroscope – at that day scientists used to think that the radiation came from the rocks of the Earth.
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Credits: Ron Miller
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Original Author: Produced by Insane Curiosity and published on 17/10/2020 Source