Sources of Earth-Bombarding Cosmic Rays May Have Been Located

by Nancy Atkinson on November 24, 2008

Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter

The cosmic ray hot spots were identified in the two red-colored regions near the constellation Orion. Courtesy John Pretz, LANL

The cosmic ray hot spots were identified in the two red-colored regions near the constellation Orion. Courtesy John Pretz, LANL


Last week’s announcement of a puzzling and unknown source of high energy cosmic rays bombarding the Earth is now joined by another discovery of two sources of unexpected cosmic rays from nearby regions of space. A Los Alamos National Laboratory cosmic-ray observatory has seen for the first time two distinct hot spots that appear to be bombarding Earth with an excess of cosmic rays. “These two results may be due to the same, or different, astrophysical phenomenon, said Jordan Goodman, principal investigator for the Milagro observatory, commenting on last week’s announcement by the ATIC experiment and the new discovery by his team. “However, they both suggest the presence of high-energy particle acceleration in the vicinity of the earth. Our new findings point to general locations for the localized excesses of cosmic-ray protons.” The cosmic rays appear to originate from an area in the sky near the constellation Orion.

Researchers used Los Alamos’ Milagro cosmic-ray observatory to peer into the sky above the northern hemisphere for nearly seven years starting in July 2000. The observatory is unique in that it monitors the entire sky above the northern hemisphere. Because of its design and field of view, Milagro was able to record over 200 billion cosmic-ray collisions with the Earth’s atmosphere.

Cosmic rays are high-energy particles that move through our Galaxy from sources far away. No one knows exactly where cosmic rays come from, but scientists theorize they might originate from supernovae—massive stars that explode— from quasars or perhaps from other exotic, less-understood or yet-to-be-discovered sources within the universe.

“Our observatory is unique in that we can detect events of low enough energies that we were able to record enough cosmic-ray encounters to see a statistically significant fractional excess coming from two distinct regions of the sky,” said collaborator Brenda Dingus.

Because Milagro was able to record so many cosmic-ray events, researchers for the first time were able to see statistical peaks in the number of cosmic-ray events originating from specific regions of the sky near the constellation Orion. The region with the highest hot spot of cosmic rays is a concentrated bulls eye above and to the right visually of Orion, near the constellation Taurus. The other hot spot is a comma-shaped region visually occurring near the constellation Gemini.

But the researchers cannot be sure they have precisely located the sources of the cosmic rays. “Whatever the source of the protons we observed with Milagro, their path to Earth is deflected by the magnetic field of the Milky Way so that we cannot directly tell exactly where they originate,” said Goodman. “And whether the regions of excess seen by Milagro actually point to a source of cosmic rays, or are the result of some other unknown nearby effect is an important question raised by our observations.”

A new, second-generation cosmic ray observatory has been proposed, which may be able to solve the mystery of the origin of cosmic rays. The experiment, named the High Altitude Water Cherenkov experiment (HAWC), would be built at a high-altitude site in Mexico.

Sources: UMD, Science Daily

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

maudyfish November 24, 2008 at 1:33 PM

In regard to alien species trying to contact us, scientist say that they may not be able to recognize messages from outer space because we may not be advanced enough yet. Therefore, how do we know for sure that these bombardments of our atmosphere are not signals from another planet?

wcf November 24, 2008 at 2:12 PM

Well, high-energy particle beams wouldn’t be a very friendly way to communicate. That would be sort of like firing a gun at someone to get their attention.

Vino November 24, 2008 at 2:49 PM

As long as the gun is not at us but at our skies…i guess thats ok!!! :D

Hans Bausewein November 24, 2008 at 3:30 PM
robbb November 24, 2008 at 3:49 PM

dear universe,
thanks for the additional mystery. we will add it to the pile.
sincerely,
earthlings

Simon November 24, 2008 at 3:50 PM

The Orions belt stars are some 800 light years away. An alien signal would have left long before we developed a capacity to recieve radio.

Simon November 24, 2008 at 3:51 PM

or cosmic ray transmissions for that matter

Don Alexander November 24, 2008 at 4:02 PM

The source in Taurus… Aldebaran… The Hyades…

Iä! Iä!

Carcosa!!

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

—”Cassilda’s Song” in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2, by Robert W. Chambers

Sorry, but if other people speculate about aliens communicating via hypergigantic particle accelerators, I can let a bit of Mythos magic flow. ;)

Maxwell November 24, 2008 at 4:04 PM

Oddly enough, shooting a gun at someone would get their attention. Especially if you had no other tool at your disposal.
Radio is a very poor way to communicate between planets, much less stars. Lasers also have their limitations. Radiation may work and, used right, you’re not outputting enough to kill (since its negligible compared to the parent star).
Still not very efficient tho.

My pet theory is that space/time may have a few caveats that would be exploited by an advanced society. It might even be possible that the speed of light does not work the way we believe it does under relativity.

Signals could be zipping right under our nose and, even if we know how, we may still end up none the wiser as to whats being said if anything.

Don Alexander November 24, 2008 at 5:00 PM

Well, the energy needed to create such a patch of cosmic rays is utterly tremendous, and, I should think, far beyond any civilization which would not yet have been clearly visible from all kinds of radiation leakage anyway.

Anything that is able to produce such power should rate at least 2.5, if not 3 on the Kardashev scale (seeing that a single sun-type star can impossibly accelerate such amounts of cosmic rays.)

I think something like that would be extremely inefficient for communications.

Pluto November 24, 2008 at 5:19 PM

Pluto here, you puny earthlings thought you could get away with downgrading us didn’t you? Well EAT COSMIC RAYS!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

Barbara November 24, 2008 at 5:24 PM

I have a (two?) question about the sentence: <>

I suppose that “in the vicinity of the earth” means in the vicinity of our Solar System, is it?
How far could possibly be these cosmic ray sources? Like a near star? Or a lot more far away?

I hope there’s someone who could possibly answer to my questions. Thanks so much in advance, and please, be patient with my poor English.

Barbara November 24, 2008 at 5:29 PM

In my last comment the quoted sentence is disappeared, I try again to past it, without double quotes:

However, they both (the two sources of cosmic rays discoved from nearby regions of space) suggest the presence of high-energy particle acceleration in the vicinity of the earth.

That’s it, sorry.

Silver Thread November 24, 2008 at 6:35 PM

I bet this coincides with the reduction in bow shock we are experiencing from the Sun. Just a hunch mind you.

alandee November 24, 2008 at 9:19 PM

Meh, global warming anyone ?

marcellus November 25, 2008 at 7:34 AM

I’ll take my Celestron G8 out tonight and look for it.

ShadowDancer November 25, 2008 at 2:29 AM

Barbara Says:
November 24th, 2008 at 5:24 pm
I have a (two?) question about the sentence:

I suppose that “in the vicinity of the earth” means in the vicinity of our Solar System, is it?
How far could possibly be these cosmic ray sources? Like a near star? Or a lot more far away?

I hope there’s someone who could possibly answer to my questions. Thanks so much in advance, and please, be patient with my poor English.

@Barbara

According to the first story, the source is supposed to be within a kiloparsec – which is approximately 3260 lightyears. The nearest star to us is slightly more than 4 lightyears away. Until an exact location can be better pinpointed, a definitive source for the cosmic rays remains in the realm of speculation.

kenn November 25, 2008 at 2:30 AM

maybe its morse signals

dollhopf November 25, 2008 at 2:38 AM

What would be the consequences for life in the very vicinity of these sources? Would the life on Earth be extinct if our planet was located there?

Jerry_in_China November 25, 2008 at 4:20 AM

What about an unusually small black hole(s)? It could be a binaryeven closer than we think.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: