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Cosmic Rays Centenary - Victor Hess

Updated on January 5, 2012

Cosmic Rays and Victor Francis Hess

Cosmic Rays Come From Above Not Below

photo by cpyles on Flickr
photo by cpyles on Flickr

Victor Hess Discovers Cosmic Rays

This year, 2012, marks the centenary anniversary of the discovery of cosmic rays - subatomic particles which are energetic and charged and bombard the Earth from outer space while intermingling with interstellar matter on their way down, through and into the Earth's atmosphere. In the early 1900s, scientists had been using electroscopes to measure the cosmic radiation which was commonly thought to be originating from inside earth itself. It took an Austrian-American physicist at the Institute For Radium Research in Vienna, Austria to ultimately discern their cosmic origin and make the discovery of cosmic rays in 1912. His name was Victor Francis Hess and the discover, which came to him through his experiments on the absorption of gamma rays in the atmosphere, led to the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1936. The knowledge of cosmic rays advanced nuclear and particle physics contributing directly to the discovery of the positron, muon, and pi meson. Though Victor Hess made his observations 100 years ago, marking the centenary, there is still much mystery left to be solved in respect to cosmic rays. Active research pursuits involve such things as dissecting the exact nature of the small portion of a cosmic ray that consists of antimatter such as antiprotons and positrons. 1912 was a significant year for the past century in physics and the Nobel laureate Victor Hess deserves recognition for the scope of his discovery. For that reason, many universities and physics organizations will be honoring the man, his work, and his awards in 2012.

While working at the Austrian Academy of Sciences Victor Hess began looking into scientific findings that electroscopes were displaying electrical charge readings despite being very well insulated from the exterior environment. Many hypothesized that it was terrestrial mineral radioactivity or some such that was causing such a phenomena. Ionization was of course not as well understood as it is now on Victor Hess' centenary of the discovery of cosmic rays. Theodore Wulf had measured such cosmic ray phenomena from both the bottom and top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and determined that the ionization effect did seem to increase the higher in the atmosphere one went. So Victor Hess took this knowledge and modernized electroscopes and other instruments so that he could achieve more accurate readings than had been earlier obtained. Effects such as temperature and pressure had skewed the readings of earlier attempts so as to make their results inconclusive. Taking to the sky via hot air balloon rides, physicist Victor Hess made a series of measurements which led him to conclude that there was a high powered penetrating radiation that enters the Earth's atmosphere from above. This set the agenda for future scientific endeavors regarding comic rays.

One of the meetings celebrating the discovery of cosmic rays centenary will be the Centenary Symposium 2012 at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. The symposium dates are June 26-28 2012 and it will be a summary of current cosmic ray information and research as well as a look into the future direction of cosmic ray research. Register now to get reduced registration fees and reserve your spot at the conference. Another celebration of Hess' discovery will be the 5th Internation Symposium on High-Energy Gamma-Ray Astronomy aka Gamma2012 in Heidelberg, Germany and put on by the Max-Plank-Institu fur Kernphysik on July 9-13 2012. Much of the talks there will be in regards to the high and very high (GeV and TeV) energy intervals of the electromagnetic spectrum. The centenary course at the German symposium will look at the connection between VHE gamma and cosmic rays. Moscow, Russia will host the 23rd European Cosmic Ray Symposium and 32nd Cosmic Ray Conference with tickets available now. There are certain to be many more honorings of Victor Hess and the insight his discover of cosmic rays provided.


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