Scientists from the University of Southampton are to turn the Moon into a giant particle detector to help understand the origin of Ultra-High-Energy (UHE) cosmic rays — the most energetic particles in the Universe.

The origin of UHE cosmic rays is one of the great mysteries in astrophysics. Nobody knows where these extremely rare cosmic rays come from or how they get their enormous energies. Physicists detect them on Earth at a rate of less than one particle per square kilometre per century.

Dr Justin Bray, a Research Fellow in Cosmic Magnetism at the University of Southampton, is lead author of a proposal to use the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), set to become the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world, to detect vastly more UHE cosmic rays by using the Moon as a giant cosmic ray detector.

On Earth, physicists detect these high-energy particles when they hit the upper atmosphere triggering a cascade of secondary particles that generate a short and faint burst of radio waves only a few nanoseconds long.

It is this signal that astronomers hope to pick up from the Moon, but as these signals are so short and faint no radio telescope on Earth is currently capable of picking them up.

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