The Pierre Auger Observatory is a huge array of detectors deployed over an area of some 3000 km2 in the Argentinian Pampa. Because of the sheer scale of the project, it can be difficult to meaningfully explore the layout of the array and display the various detector components in a way that illustrates the distances involved. To help facilitate this exploration, a model of the Pierre Auger Observatory layout was constructed, to be viewed interactively using Google Earth. This allows the user to display the various detector elements, zoom in on them, tilt and rotate the field of view, etc. Running a Google Earth session requires a computer with reasonably high bandwidth access to the internet.
The above picture shows the Los Leones fluorescence detector of the Auger Observatory, on a hill overlooking above the ground array of surface detectors (one of which appears in the foreground). The project utilizes two techniques to detect these extremely rare particles. When they reach the Earth's atmosphere, they generate a cascade of billions of particles which can be detected when they strike the ground with an array of surface detectors. In addition, on dark nights the sky glow (known as nitrogen fluorescence) generated by the passage of these particles can be imaged with telescopes located on the boundary of the array. There are a total of four nitrogen fluorescence detectors with six telescopes each. This image shows the Los Leones detector, built on the summit of an extinct volcanic mound, or cerro.
For a detailed exploration of the Southern Observatory using the Google Earth program, please visit collaborator Stephane Coutu's website at Penn State University.