More about the Big Events
The Fly's Eye Event
The highest-energy cosmic
ray ever detected was observed on October 15, 1991 by the Fly's Eye cosmic ray detector in Utah, USA.
The detector is located in the desert in Dugway Proving Grounds 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
The Fly's Eye detects cosmic rays by observing the light that they cause when they strike the atmosphere.
When an extremely high-energy cosmic ray enters the atmosphere, it collides with an atomic nucleus and starts
a cascade of charged particles that produce light as they zip through the atmosphere. The charged particles of
a cosmic ray air shower travel together at very nearly the speed of light, so the Utah detectors see a
fluorescent spot move rapidly along a line through the atmosphere. By measuring how much light comes from
each stage of the air shower, one can infer not only the energy of the cosmic ray but also whether it was
more likely a simple proton or a heavier nucleus.
The Utah researchers measured the energy of the unusual cosmic ray event in 1991 to
be 3.2x1020 eV. They were stunned by their observation.
They had previously believed that such energetic particles could not exist in the universe, because
theory said the particles should rapidly lose their energy in collisions with the universal microwave
radiation left over from the Big Bang
Thus, very high-energy particles now pose a cosmic mystery that has inspired a worldwide collaboration to begin planning the vast new detector called the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory.
The AGASA Cosmic Ray Event
a village about 120km west of Tokyo, was the home of the world's largest surface array for detecting very
high-energy cosmic ray air showers, until overtaken by the Pierre Auger Observatory in 2004.
The Akeno Giant Air Shower Array (AGASA) consists of 111 particle detectors spread about a kilometer
apart over an area of 100 square kilometers. Each detector occupies a small hut 2.2 square meters in area.
Construction of the array began in 1987; it has been measuring cosmic ray air showers ever since its completion
On December 3, 1993, the AGASA array recorded a very large air shower. This very special event was particularly well measured because the air shower fell completely inside the detector array and arrived from a nearly vertical direction. This air shower was produced by a cosmic ray with an energy of about 2x1020 eV. This is the highest-energy cosmic ray observed at AGASA; and, like the Fly's Eye event in Utah, it has an energy well above that expected from any known source.