|Pierre Auger Observatory inaugurated|
The Observatory is exploring the mysteries of the highest energy cosmic rays – charged particles showering the Earth at energies 10 million times higher than the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator. Launched more than a decade ago under the auspices of UNESCO, the observatory is a network of 1600 sensors spread over 3000 km2 in Argentina.
The Auger Observatory is a ‘hybrid detector’, employing two independent methods to detect and study high-energy cosmic rays. One technique detects high energy particles through their interaction with water placed in surface detector tanks. The other technique tracks the development of air showers by observing ultraviolet light emitted high in the Earth's atmosphere.
It was at UNESCO Headquarters in 1995 that the international collaboration in support of the project formally got off the ground after Argentina’s offer to host the southern Pierre Auger Observatory was gratefully accepted by all parties. On 13 October 1998, the finance board of the Pierre Auger project met at UNESCO Headquarters to work on the agreement underpinning the organization, management and funding of the project. The meeting was graced by the visit of then President of Argentina, Carlos Menem, who announced that construction of the Pierre Auger Observatory could begin early the following year. The project formally came into being in March 1999 with the signing of an agreement, two months before construction of the detector began in Argentina.
The project is named after former UNESCO Science Director Pierre Auger (1948-1958), who died in 1993. He is perhaps best-remembered for orchestrating UNESCO's key role in the founding of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, which launched the Large Hadron Collider on 21 October last year.
Pierre Auger’s scientific speciality was experimental physics, in the fields of atomic (photoelectric effect), nuclear (slow neutrons) and cosmic ray physics (atmospheric air showers). After his service with UNESCO, he served as Director of the Cosmic Physics Service at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (1959-1962) and as Director-General of the European Space Research Organization (1962-1967).
The Pierre Auger Collaboration involves about 350 scientists from Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, UK, USA and Vietnam. Nobel Laureate in Physics, James W. Cronin, of the University of Chicago, conceived the Pierre Auger Observatory, together with Alan Watson of the University of Leeds.
The first research results from the Pierre Auger Observatory have given fresh insights into the properties of the highest energy particles in the Universe. These findings are summarized in a paper published in Science in November 2007.
Now begins the project’s second phase, which includes plans for a northern hemisphere site in Colorado (USA) and enhancements to the site in the southern hemisphere.
For more information please see www.auger.org or contact: Ms M. Alarcon, Programme Specialist, SC/BES, UNESCO HQ