Millard County may help solve scientific mystery

By Kathy Walker

Something from the depths of space is hurling incredible ultrahigh-energy particles around the universe. Fast moving cosmic rays, mainly electrons and protons, bombard the earth from all directions. Most are exploding stars that spiral through the Milky Way Galaxy producing lower-energy particles. The source of the highest energy particles ever observed remain unknown.

Millard County may help scientists discover the mysterious source, if chosen as the site for a new cosmic ray experiment, the OPi3erre Auger Project. The proposed 50 million dollar site in Millard County involves 140 scientists from 15 countries and is a major new initiative for high energy physics and astrophysics. Construction would begin in 1998 and would take 3 years to complete. Life expectancy of the project is 15-20 years.

Paul Sommers, University of Utah physics professor, said two matching radio observatories will e required. An Argentina site has been selected in the southern hemisphere for the detection system. Millard County is the most preferred site by scientists in the United States. Other northern hemisphere sites competing for the observatory are in western Spain and near Juarez, Mexico. Project scientist met this week to make the final citing choice. The decision is expected Thursday, Sept. 12.

Endorsement for the project has been made by Millard County Farm Bureau, Millard County Commission, Fillmore City, University of Utah, and Utah State University. Governor Leavitt has pledged $300,000 for environmental assessment.

Required criteria for the project's detection system includes a large, relatively flat area with small hills, clear skies, little light pollution, and dry clean air. An easily accessible remote area is also preferred.

A bonus for Millard County was the facilities and employees at the Intermountain Power Project which would be utilized to construct detector stations and fulfill other needs.

"We think Millard County is the best choice," Summers said. "It meets all the criteria and we'll do all we can to promote the county while in Argentina."

Scientists from around the world will determine the direction and measure the energy of particles arriving from space. Incoming cosmic rays strike air molecules in the atmosphere creating cascades of particles, called air showers. By observing the air showers, scientists hope to identify the source and move one step closer in understanding the universe.

The Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory consists of two detection methods. The first, is a surface array of 1600 particles detector stations, placed approximately 1 mile apart. The stations will form an approximate 1200 square mile hexagonal grid.

"The highest energy cosmic rays are so rare scientists must cast a huge net to capture even a few," said a statement issued by Fermilab.

Each station is self contained and operates on solar power explained Al Larsen, University of Utah project engineer. Each holds 3,000 gallons of de-ionized water and is 4 ft. in height and 12 ft. in diameter. When completed, they may resemble miniature granaries.

"The stations will be inconspicuous," said Larsen, "We want them to blend into the landscape."

Instruments in each station will record the time and measure the number of cosmic rays passing through. When particles strike a station, a small computer will confer by radio with neighboring stations to decide if an air shower has occurred. If so, computers from each station will transmit information to a central data center.

A second method of detection, will use one or more finely tuned sight sensors pointing ar9ound the sky in all directions, located on small hills. The detector is referred to as a "fly's eye", because the many clustered light sensors are similar to the facets of a fly's eye.

Brian Fick, University of Chicago physicist working at the University of Utah, explained approximately 20% of the land needed for the surface detector stations would be on private property, of located in Millard County. State lands occupy 5% of the required amount and 75% is BLM land.

Fick said the project will need the cooperation of landowners and residents to make the project successful. Some type of incentive may be offered to compensate landowners. A lot of unanswered questions, several types of studies and other preliminary issues will have to be addressed once a site decision is made.

"We are excited about the prospects of Millard County being involved in the Pierre Auger Project," said John Henrie, Millard County Commissioner. "It will help boost our economy and draw a number of scientists to the area. It will also be a real plus for students and teachers in science programs."

Millard County Chronicle Progress, Sept. 12, 1996
(Used by permission)   

To learn more go to Delta's official Cosmic Ray Site or to  Cosmic Ray Web.

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