Studying the Highest Energy Particles in Nature with the Pierre Auger Observatory

Pierre Auger Observatory

Pierre Auger Observatory - image courtesy Steven Saffi

The Pierre Auger Observatory in western Argentina has been built to detect giant cascades of particles created in our atmosphere by the highest energy particles known in the Universe.

These ultra-high energy cosmic rays (protons and atomic nuclei), with energies up to 1020 eV, are thought to originate in the most extreme environments in the Universe.

The Auger Observatory uses an array of particle detectors spread over 3000 square kilometres, in conjunction with 27 large optical telescopes, to measure and characterise the incoming cosmic rays - their arrival directions, energies and estimates of their mass. In 2017, Physics World nominated a result from the Observatory as one of the 10 physics breakthroughs of the year.

The University of Adelaide is a founding member of the Auger collaboration, with wide ranging responsibilities across the Observatory's mission. Projects will vary from year to year, and can be tailored to the interests and strengths of the student.

They may include work on event reconstruction (finding the best way of converting raw data into the best estimates of cosmic ray directions, energy and mass); understanding the mass estimates in terms of contemporary particle interaction physics; testing hypotheses about cosmic ray sources by matching arrival directions with galaxy distributions of various types; or using infra-red cameras to characterise night-time cloud over the Observatory.

Finally, the Observatory is embarking on a hardware upgrade to sharpen its ability to distinguish between cosmic rays of low and high mass (charge), and there will be projects dedicated to this. 

We encourage students to talk to us to find out what is new and topical.

Tagged in Honours projects - Physics, Honours projects - Bruce Dawson, Honours projects - Jose Bellido, Honours projects - Roger Clay, Honours projects - Gary Hill, Honours in Physics subtheme - High-energy astrophysics