Cosmic Rays
Artists impression of cosmic rays. Credit: NASA


Cosmic Rays from Mysterious Source Bombarding Earth

19 Nov , 2008 by


Scientists have discovered an unidentified source of high-energy cosmic rays bombarding Earth from space. They say it must be close to the solar system and it could be made of dark matter. “This is a big discovery,” says John Wefel of Louisiana State University and Principal Investigator for ATIC, Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter, a NASA funded balloon-borne instrument high over Antarctica. “It’s the first time we’ve seen a discrete source of accelerated cosmic rays standing out from the general galactic background.”

The new results show an unexpected surplus of cosmic ray electrons at very high energy — 300-800 billion electron volts — that must come from a previously unidentified source or from the annihilation of very exotic theoretical particles used to explain dark matter.

“This electron excess cannot be explained by the standard model of cosmic ray origin,” said Wefel. “There must be another source relatively near us that is producing these additional particles.”

According to the research, this source would need to be within about 3,000 light years of the sun. It could be an exotic object such as a pulsar, mini-quasar, supernova remnant or an intermediate mass black hole.

“Cosmic ray electrons lose energy during their journey through the galaxy,” said Jim Adams, ATIC research lead at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “These losses increase with the energy of the electrons. At the energies measured by our instrument, these energy losses suppress the flow of particles from distant sources, which helps nearby sources stand out.”

The scientists point out, however, that there are few such objects close to our solar system.

“These results may be the first indication of a very interesting object near our solar system waiting to be studied by other instruments,” Wefel said.

ATIC high-energy electron counts. Credit: J. Chang et al.

ATIC high-energy electron counts. Credit: J. Chang et al.

An alternative explanation is that the surplus of high energy electrons might result from the annihilation of very exotic particles put forward to explain dark matter. In recent decades, scientists have learned that the kind of material making up the universe around us only accounts for about five percent of its mass composition. Close to 70 percent of the universe is composed of dark energy (so called because its nature is unknown). The remaining 25 percent of the mass acts gravitationally just like regular matter, but does little else, so it is normally not visible.

The nature of dark matter is not understood, but several theories that describe how gravity works at very small, quantum distances predict exotic particles that could be good dark matter candidates.

“The annihilation of these exotic particles with each other would produce normal particles such as electrons, positrons, protons and antiprotons that can be observed by scientists,” said Eun-Suk Seo, ATIC lead at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The 4,300-pound ATIC experiment is carried to an altitude of about 124,000 feet above Antarctica using a helium-filled balloon about as large as the interior of the New Orleans Superdome. The goal of the project is to study cosmic rays that otherwise would be absorbed into the atmosphere.

Researchers from ATIC published the results in the Nov. 20 issue of the journal Nature.

Sources: NASA, Science@NASA

By  -        
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

36 Responses

  1. quantum_flux says:

    :) Maybe aliens are playing a game of “Flying Saucer Pull” with scotch tape?

  2. quantum_flux says:

    …. nearby a metallic planet of course, perhaps the charge builds up so high from their “Flying Saucer Pull” game that electrons shoot through the interseller plasma at high speeds sending off cosmic rays to us.

  3. Maxwell says:

    Maybe its Planet X! >:p

    Its a curious sounding situation which, unfortunately, I don’t fully understand.
    It sounds like we’re seeing the output of matter behaving in a manner we cannot observe otherwise… which could be a mind blowing thing.

    Maybe dark matter/energy isn’t so dark after all.

  4. Phil says:

    Oh man, we’re all going to die!!

    What the heck is a “Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter”??

    Too bad we need “Exotic particles” to explain things…

  5. Cody says:

    Maybe aliens use cosmic rays to broadcast their TV, and we’re finally getting their 1936 Olympics (ala Contact).

    Any way you slice it though…. LHC – One upped.

  6. Bill says:

    Why is it that the most surprising thing about this article is, to me, that there is a balloon the size of the Superdome floating 25 Miles over Antarctica ?

  7. James says:

    I thought the same thing Bill.

  8. alienshouting says:

    Could this finally be the alien signal we have been waiting for, “hello, over here, look already will you, can’t you see our cosmic ray beacon?”

  9. sps says:

    I think the claim of the balloon may be…. inflated.

  10. John says:

    not after some back of the hand calculations, it appears their volume is proper.

    I used wikipedia for temperature and pressure as a function of altitude to get the density of air up there at about 37km, it is approx 47K temp, giving it a density of .000582 kg/m^3

    at about 2000kg, the balloon must displace this volume of air to keep the payload afloat, so density=mass/volume plug in and solve for volume you get 2000kg/0.00058 kg/m^3 gives you a volume of about 3400000 m^3.

    The superdome has a volume of 3500000 m^3 (google), so with these rough approximations, they are pretty darn close.

  11. Jerry says:

    opps i accidentally your whole planet planet with Cosmic Rays!

  12. staticman says:

    :) I roughly calculate that rubbing that balloon with 3400000 sweaters will make it stick to the moon.

    Seriously though, I would love to see balloons floating through the clouds of Jupiter and all the other planets that have an atmosphere.

  13. Mehul says:

    Aside from the mention of the balloon over Antarctica, the article failed to mention a few things.

    Are all the projectiles continuously focused on the same Latitude and Longitude of our Earth? Or do they change as the Earth rotates about its own axis and orbits the sun? If so, can the projectiles be coming from a single source in one direction, or in multiple directions with respect to the location of the sun? Also, does anyone have any idea if the projectiles were always there or have they only started recently?

    From the ATIC (Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter), sun, star, and other sensors aboard the “balloon”, are we able to determine any of that information? Can we determine which location(s) the projectiles are coming from? Or do we have to go back to the drawing board to figure it all out?

  14. vinman says:

    could GOD be the source? let’s check our bibles

  15. jerry says:

    A galactic source of high energy cosmic rays is a nice find, if it can be collaborated; but they are a little quick on the dark stuff button.

  16. Aodhhan says:

    I really would like to see more information on this. Unfortunately the whole setup leaves a lot of vagueness for the imagination to run wild. Being unable to be certain which direction the particles are coming from is just one of these vague problems.

    Using common sense, since this is at the south pole, it is probable these particles are coming from the sun, and getting collected and charged more from our own magnetic field.
    Is there any reason our magnetic field couldn’t funnel and amplify these particles… focusing them onto the polar regions?
    I would like to see this sensor launched at other areas on earth, and also launch a separate sensor away from our planet to take control measurements.

  17. Jason Leary says:

    Could it be , possibly , that the source of the cosmic rays is itself a living fully conscious being or collection of beings —a case of energy beings (life as we do not know it —as opposed to life as we know it ) ?

  18. ShadowDancer says:

    Mehul Says:
    November 20th, 2008 at 1:31 am
    Aside from the mention of the balloon over Antarctica, the article failed to mention a few things.

    Are all the projectiles continuously focused on the same Latitude and Longitude of our Earth? Or do they change as the Earth rotates about its own axis and orbits the sun? If so, can the projectiles be coming from a single source in one direction, or in multiple directions with respect to the location of the sun? Also, does anyone have any idea if the projectiles were always there or have they only started recently?

    From the ATIC (Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter), sun, star, and other sensors aboard the “balloon”, are we able to determine any of that information? Can we determine which location(s) the projectiles are coming from? Or do we have to go back to the drawing board to figure it all out?

    From the original article (not the one on Universe Today), the biggest problem of finding a source has to do with the the balloon being in a “turbulent vortex of high-altitude winds” and that the electrons had “their directions scrambled to some degree by galactic magnetic fields.” The article said the best they could hope to do was one side of the sky over another.

    As for whether or not the phenomenon is recent, the article is only about the discovery of the surplus high-energy electrons. It does not mentioned whether or not there may be other data showing this as an on going phenomenon.

  19. James says:

    Why is it that over the past year or two when something can’t be quickly explained Dark Matter is thrown in the mix? My company can’t seem to explain why my 401K is down this year, so maybe it’s because of Dark Matter. My kids don’t get good grades in school…Dark Matter. I think if I could buy my wife flowers made out of Dark Matter I would automatically get out of trouble for the rest of my life…

  20. piñol says:


  21. Something says:

    Maybe those rays were always, but we have discovered them just now.

  22. rogue says:

    It obviously is the result for our transit through the Dark Rift, the Galactic Plane, where at its center exists a black sun, a super massive black hole. This is part of the Mayan 2012 prophecy. All the ancients wrote about it. This cycle exposes us to new cosmic rays and gravitational waves, which results in weather and earth changes in all the planets of our solar system.

  23. Steve says:

    I think that much more research is needed before speculating about an unknown local source for these particles. It may turn out to be something more mundane.

    For example, could this just be cosmic particles emitted from the Sun that have been gravitationally redirected by the Moon or one of the planets? I don’t know if this has been considered, or is even possible. I do know that the path of light is only altered slightly by the Sun, but these are slower, more massive particles. Does anyone have any insight into this?

  24. Steven says:

    “could GOD be the source? let’s check our bibles”

    :) funny vinman

  25. justin says:

    I’m with rogue on the galactic rift theory

  26. Diane says:

    Let’s discuss more about the 2012 theories circulating around! This is fascinating stuff…

    Anyway, as an over-educated person in a field unrelated (hence my lack of comprehending anything except the English language being used here), can someone put this into non-jargon? There are more than just space-related professionals reading these comments.

    It appears to me that this is yet another example of how our textbooks are written about information that is truthfully unknown, and most llikely inaccurate, but still passed on as fact based on one person’s theories.

    Can anyone shed any cosmic light?

  27. Vicki says:

    If there’s energy in these rays, this might be a heavenly answer to our energy problems.

  28. John Mark says:

    I was in my deer stand and about to leave as dark had just occured when all these swirling and intermitten flashes of light took place before me, so I just sat still for about 45 minutes in the dark viewing what appeared to be low level flourescent lights coming from up in the sky and moving all around me in the woods. I was stunned and afraid to leave my stand. Finally they left, no vehicles or overhead aircraft present, I hastily got on my 4-wheeler and left. This may be the cosmic rays in the dark making an appearance to me!

  29. Tony & GiGi says:

    This is God’s word spoken through Prophet Kim Clement.

    Searchable Prophecy Database
    « Back to Main Menu Printer friendly version
    From Lancaster, CA

    August 8, 2008 – Lancaster, CA

    The Spirit of the Lord is working the miraculous. There is a supernatural intervention that is coming, for God says look to the sky. There will be a sign in the sky again over California, over Oregon, over Washington it shall continue north into Canada for the Spirit of God says this sign shall cause people to tremble and be afraid. Do not worry for the wind will come says the Lord. There is an experience that is similar to what took place on the day of Pentecost that is about to take place. What took place, the heavens opened up for they were united together, the day had fully come. The Spirit of God says the day has fully come. What day? The day says the Lord that you’ve been waiting for, the day of the Lord. Men shall say, shall we be caught away and be taken into the heavens? You are going to experience a different kind of rapture, it is a rapture that will take you into a new dimension of God’s authority and God’s power says the Spirit of God.

  30. DEANNA says:



  31. Watchman says:

    Here’s an interesting take from today of the possibility of a brown dwarf binary star being the cause.

    My take as a watchman regarding this possibility has to do with the signs of the sixth seal.

    Revelation 6:12-17 | Isaiah 2:10-21

    Yeshua is coming…Watch!

  32. Arlou says:

    Not everyone will be in the bandwagon for now just like what happened in the earlier theory of Dr. Pauli’s nuetrinos.There were many detractors, but finally they joined the bandwagon to pursue the ghost-like matter. It was confusing physicists, plugged away. They were excited know if this somehow break the Standard Model.They muddled through to unravel the mystery. Einstein once remarked, “God is sophisticated, but not malicious.” God is a God of order.
    This is an astounding times because there is unprecedented exponential flow of knowledge.

  33. Rachelle says:

    It’s the TRUTH. Kim Clement did prophesy these events recently. He has been found to be extremely accurate. You can find it at I just saw visual proof and confirmation in a video from BREAKING CHRISTIAN NEWS the article titled …Amazing Video of the Week: Possible Meteor Seen as Huge Fireball Slamming to Earth Caught on Camera. It was actually so brigh that it made the night sky like the day in Canada. I just saw this video myself. A Cop caught it on his dashboard camera while driving. It lit up the whole sky brighter than any display I have ever seen! Quite spectacular. You can see it for yourself. Because of the prophecy before the events, because of Kim Clement’s reputation as being pretty right on, and because of the confirmation through science, I’d say….It’s God and He’s got something to say.

  34. Kaiden says:


  35. katman says:

    john mark :
    Great post. What kind of weed were you smoking?

  36. Thomas says:

    Please, can you PM me and tell me few more thinks about this, I am really fan of your blog…

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