CSU–Pueblo professor continues work with observatory project

Colorado State University-Pueblo Associate Professor of Physics Bill Brown continues work as a collaborator on the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory project in Lamar, where he has been outfitting demonstration tanks that will make their first appearances at area county fairs later this month. The project team also includes individuals from CSU- Fort Collins, University of Colorado, Colorado School of Mines, University of Nebraska, and Lamar Community College.

The Pierre Auger Project, an international collaboration involving about 300 physicists and engineers from about 19 countries in North and South America and Europe, is named after the physicist who, in the 1930s, discovered and coined the term “cosmic rays.” The Pierre Auger Observatory in Malargue, Argentina examines the southern hemisphere, while the North American counterpart being proposed in Colorado, will be located on about 4,000 square miles of ranchland south of Lamar and Springfield, Colo. The tanks will be arranged in a square array and will be separated from each other by 1 mile.

The two demonstration tanks being outfitted will allow area residents and landowners to get a closer look at one of the integral components of the proposed cosmic ray Observatory. The polyethylene demonstration tanks look similar to the ones being considered for the proposed Observatory -- 12 feet in diameter, about five feet tall, and with a capacity of about 3,000 gallons of water. The other main parts of the Observatory are buildings containing six large telescopes viewing the sky to see faint flashes of light as the cosmic rays penetrate the atmosphere. A Visitor Center also has been proposed on the campus of Lamar Community College.

According to Brown, having a detector in the northern hemisphere to go with the one in Argentina will allow scientists to view the whole sky. Southeastern Colorado was selected because its latitude allows scientists to view the northern sky, the altitude is perfect to record the measurements, and the skies are clear and dark. The land also is fairly flat, which helps communication between the tanks and the central data center. Brown said discussions have begun with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy with hopes of having the $50 million in funding secured from the U.S. and $50 million from other participating countries by 2008 so that construction may begin in late 2008 or early 2009.
Bent County’s tank is set to be installed around July 24 at the Bent County Fairgrounds with another at Lamar Community College thereafter. Tanks may be viewed during both the Bent County and Sand & Sage (Prowers County) fairs.

Brown has been attending collaboration meetings in Argentina, where planning occurs and new results are shared. On the CSU-Pueblo campus, he has been researching new detectors that allow observation of energetic cosmic ray showers, especially when their center occurs very near the detectors in the tanks. He also is writing an NSF proposal to fund student participation in the meetings in Argentina and for two-week shifts operating the Auger South Observatory. The grant also would send students to other places, such as Brazil, Germany, England, Spain and the Netherlands to gain experience and greater cultural awareness.

Brown explained that that the new observatory will allow scientists to observe cosmic ray showers to determine where they are coming from in the sky. The most interesting events with the greatest energy are very rare, happening only about twice per square miles every 100 years. At this time, the origins and the processes that produce such energetic cosmic rays are complete mysteries.

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