Cosmic Ray Observatory to be Built in Utah

Cosmic Ray Observatory to be Built in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A team of U.S. and Japanese universities plans to build a $17 million to $18 million cosmic ray observatory in Utah's Millard County, where researchers hope to uncover the source of high-energy cosmic rays, the University of Utah announced Monday.

The Telescope Array, as it is called, is scheduled to begin construction this spring and be completed by 2007 in rangeland west of Delta.

The Japanese government has promised $12 million toward construction, while American universities, including the University of Utah, hope to raise another $5 million to $6 million, said Pierre Sokolsky, a physics professor at the University of Utah and principal investigator for the project.

Utah was chosen as the site of the observatory because of its dark skies and clear, dry atmosphere, said Sokolsky.

"This area of the country is ideal for these kinds of experiments," he said.

Utah is already home to a cosmic ray observatory, the High-Resolution Fly's Eye, at Dugway Proving Ground, while another, the $50 million Pierre Auger Project, has been proposed for Utah or Colorado.

Scientists hope the Telescope Array will help explain the mystery behind what is hurling high-energy cosmic rays, or subatomic particles, through space.

"The earth is being bombarded from outer space by these particles," Sokolsky said, adding that scientists will be able to collect more data with the Telescope Array because its sensitivity is 10 times greater than the equipment used now.

Scientists have a number of theories for what force is behind these rays, including energy that got caught in cracks in space time during the Big Bang, or previously unseen matter from far away, Sokolsky said.

"We've only seen about 12 of these in the past 10 years," he said. "We need to see hundreds of them before we can make a decisive discrimination."

The Telescopic Array will include two types of devices spread out over a large area: three fluorescence detectors that will pick up blue flashes in the night sky when cosmic rays hit gas molecules in the atmosphere, and 576 scintillation detectors that will measure the energy and direction of the rays.

Sokolsky said construction of the new observatory is part of ongoing project to "build an even bigger and better detector. We hope that with this new detector ... we'll really be able to understand what's going on."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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