Particles Come From All Over

03/04/2015 11:00 am ET | Updated May 04, 2015

In my last blog post, I talked about the work that has been ongoing while the Large Hadron Collider was undergoing repairs and maintenance in preparation for turning on and producing collisions at a new higher energy starting this spring. Of course we're looking forward to what will happen with this as it will be the highest energy for an accelerator. Meanwhile, the Universe's accelerators have been bombarding us with high energy particles, low energy particles and everything in between since the beginning of time. There are lots of ways we are looking at these particles with detectors on the earth and in the sky. There are studies of gravitational waves, dark energy and dark matter. Unlike an accelerator where you control the energy, where the particles are going, and how many of them there are, there is no controlling the cosmic accelerators. You get your detector ready and then wait to see what happens.

We all know that astronomical telescopes look for "light" from stars, galaxies and the like. Visible light is one form of electromagnetic energy with a particular wavelength. There are now many telescopes that look for x-rays and other wavelength information falling out of the skies. Many of these telescopes or detectors cover large areas and are in remote places. The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory has just been completed with hundreds of water tanks on the Sierra Negra volcano at an altitude of 4,100 meters in Mexico. It will hopefully detect super energetic photons (gamma rays) soon. The Dark Energy Camera, located high in the Chilean Andes with a more conventional 520 megapixel digital CCD camera, has started to put results out on stuff nearby (in our solar system) before telling us something about its namesake with studies of dark energy. At the South Pole, you can use the ice for detection of ultra-high energy neutrinos thought to have come from outside of our galaxy. I worked on a prototype detector called the Radio Ice Cherenkov Experiment (RICE) where we buried radio antennas in the ice. Now there are larger arrays of detectors including optical wavelength detectors that have seen extragalactic neutrinos such as IceCube. Still, it will take some time to collect more data and patience is a must for this effort.

I know that great results continue to come from these and other detectors which are used to figure out how old the universe is, what it is made of, and whether something is going to destroy us coming from beyond. The cosmic accelerators continue to hold the record for the largest energy available and the LHC won't ever be able to compete with that.