Cosmic rays fuel next big astronomy project

The Cherenkov Telescope Array, an international consortium of scientific organizations, has targeted two sites in northern Arizona for 40 telescopes costing $130 million. (Courtesy image)

Every second of every day, the Earth is bombarded with cosmic-rays — high-energy particles soaring in from the outer reaches of space at nearly the speed of light.

When such a particle enters the atmosphere, it sets off a fireworks show invisible to the naked eye. The cosmic ray collides with molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, creating more high energy particles that launch off to collide with neighboring particles and so on, until the cascade reaches for miles.

To telescopes designed to see the effect — known as Cherenkov radiation — it looks something like a bolt of lightning splintered into a million different paths.

A group of some 700 scientists from 25 countries is looking to build a $130 million dollar array of 40 telescopes designed to make use of Cherenkov radiation to study things like black holes and dark matter.

And two northern Arizona sites are on their short list.