News: Auger Press Release
Wednesday, March 17, 1999
Media contacts: Judy Jackson
Fermilab Office of Public Affairs
International Cosmic Ray Collaboration Breaks Ground in Argentina
With a spade full of Argentinean soil, scientists from the 19-nation Pierre Auger Project came an important step closer to understanding the mystery of one of nature's most puzzling phenomena, the origin of highest energy cosmic rays. Dr. Arturo Lafalla, Governor of the Province of Mendoza, served as the official host of the March 17 groundbreaking ceremony for the new cosmic ray observatory located near the cities of Malargüe and San Rafael in Mendoza Province, Argentina.
The Auger Observatory, a major facility for forefront science in Latin America, will consist of 1,600 particle detector stations about 1.5 kilometers apart, arranged in a giant grid covering some 3,000 square kilometers, an area about 10 times the size of the city of Paris. The detector array will record the arrival on earth of air "showers" caused by the most powerful particle interactions ever observed, in an attempt to track down the unknown origin of these extremely high-energy cosmic rays.
"Once in operation, the Observatory will no doubt unveil the mystery of the highest known energies in nature," Lafalla wrote in his official invitation to the ceremony. "I would like to express our highest esteem for international scientific collaborations, going to the essence of human knowledge beyond country boundaries."
Cosmic rays are fast-moving particles from space that constantly bombard the earth from all directions. They travel at nearly the speed of light, which means they have very high energy. Some of them, in fact, are the most energetic of any particles ever observed in nature. Although scientists can account for the origin of most cosmic rays, no one knows the source of the highest energy cosmic ray particles, whose energies are more than a hundred million times greater than the particles produced in the world's most powerful particle accelerator.
The Pierre Auger Project takes its name from the French scientist who, in 1938, first observed "extensive air showers," showers of secondary particles caused by the collision of primary high energy particles with air molecules. Among the guests at the March 17 groundbreaking was Auger's daughter, Mariette Berl, of Paris.
"Breaking ground for the first Pierre Auger Observatory marks a culmination of the hopes and dreams, and the untiring dedication, of hundreds of scientists working together," said University of Chicago Nobel laureate and Auger Project spokesman James Cronin. "We have been working with agencies and governments around the world for 4 years in order to reach this moment. It is truly a great achievement for international scientific collaboration -- for science without borders."
Construction of the Pierre Auger Observatory will be complete in 2003. Auger Project collaborators plan to begin cosmic-ray observations in about 2001. They hope later to construct a complementary northern hemisphere observatory which, together with the southern observatory, would allow studies of cosmic rays from over entire sky. Nineteen nations are represented in the Pierre Auger Project: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
Please go to the Image Gallery for photos of the groundbreaking ceremony.