Turn Your Smartphone Into A Particle Detector For Cosmic Rays

The electronic camera on a chip in your smartphone is the same style of technology used in the Large Hadron Collider. Now a group of astrophysicists wants to capitalize on the similarity to recruit citizen sciences to track the fallout from ultra high energy cosmic rays hitting our atmosphere.

Cosmic rays of all energy levels are bombarding our planet all the time, but the ones with the very highest energy levels (>1018 eV) are rare enough to be downright mysterious. When a cosmic ray hits the atmosphere, it creates an air shower scattering lower-energy particles. The size of the air shower extends with the energy of the triggering cosmic ray, potentially stretching to kilometers across and far too large to be monitored by a standard detection grid.


Instead, a team led by University of California professors Daniel Whiteson and Michael Mulhearn is hoping to get enough citizen scientists to download an app onto their smartphones to recruit its CMOS chip into a diffuse, distributed monitoring system recording cosmic rays. The Cosmic Rays Found In Smartphones (CRAYFIS) experiment is just starting up, but from beta-testing the app with radiation sources, it looks like the theory will work in practice, if only they can recruit enough people to load the app onto their phones. (Want to be a beta-tester? You can download the app here!)

In keeping with the exuberant author-lists of particle physics papers, the team is promising that anyone whose phone collects data that is later used in a research paper will get authorship on the paper. And if the project doesn't pan out? The team is having a lot of fun taking a detour to work on on a pocket-sized project instead of a multimillion dollar international collaboration stretching over decades.

Tip via NPR. Read Observing Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays with Smartphones. Images credit Crayfis.


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