So, again it’s been aeons since I wrote something… One would think that I’m so busy that I don’t have time to write. Frankly I have no idea where time disappears to. Probably Netflix…

However, this time I actually do have some sort of reason for not having written, at least for a few of the weeks I’ve been absent. The reason is that we have been in the great metropolitan city of Delta in Utah. Delta is a city with a population of about 3 500 and is located 50 miles past nowhere, in the middle of the desert.

The reason for us being in Delta was that since it is located in the middle of the desert it poses great opportunities for astronomical observations. Therefore one of the larges air shower telescopes, TA – Telescope Array, is located about 30 minutes drive outside Delta.

An air shower is a cascade of particles created in the upper atmosphere when extremely energetic cosmic ray particles (mainly protons) collides with air molecules. The collision is so violent that the proton breaks into a very large number of pieces. As a result a light glow can be observed in the sky. Well… If you have a very expensive type of telescope.

The glow is mainly in the UV-range of the light spectrum (300-400 nm) and last for only a fraction of a second. Therefore you need the specialised telescopes to see them.

This type of telescope is actually what the project I’m currently working with is trying to develop. However, our telescope is not intended to sit on the ground looking up into the night sky. We want to place our telescope in the International Space Station, looking down onto the night sky. In doing so, we will be able to observe a very large area. This is needed because the interesting particles (the ones with the highest energies) are extremely rare. The arrival rate is about 1 cosmic ray particle per 1 square kilometre per 100 years.

That means, if you have a 1 kmĀ² detector, it will take you on average 100 years in between seeing the interesting events. In order to collect lots of data you can either measure for a very long time or build a very large detector. Actually, you would like to do both…

So, by going into space we can increase the size of our detector volume (the atmosphere -> detector area) and we also gain the additional benefit of not being stationary, only viewing either the north or the south sky. We get what we call full sky coverage.

Most of you have probably given up already so I’ll stop for now. But I’ll continue writing about our trip to the Utah desert.