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Fwd: News: A Disturbance in the Neighborhood

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  • Roger L. Bagula
    ... wrote: Hot spots. Astronomers have spotted two zones (in red) of high-energy cosmic rays coming from the direction of Orion. Credit: John
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2008
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      --- In physical_sciences@yahoogroups.com, "Robert Karl Stonjek"
      <stonjek@...> wrote:


      Hot spots. Astronomers have spotted two zones (in red) of high-energy
      cosmic rays coming from the direction of Orion.
      Credit: John Pretz/Los Alamos National Laboratory
      A Disturbance in the Neighborhood
      By Phil Berardelli
      ScienceNOW Daily News
      24 November 2008

      Something strange may be going on around Orion. Somewhere near that
      familiar constellation, two unknown sources seem to be showering Earth
      and the rest of the Milky Way with galactic cosmic rays, astronomers
      report today. The findings could shed light on one of the biggest
      mysteries in the universe.
      The term "cosmic rays" is somewhat of a misnomer. The "rays" consist
      mostly of solid protons, not the photons that make up light. These
      particles whiz around the cosmos at near-light speed, causing all
      sorts of mischief when they penetrate Earth's magnetic field.
      Scientists blame them for everything from computer-memory glitches to
      bolts of lightning. In space, the rays would pose a health hazard to
      astronauts on interplanetary missions, as they can mutate our DNA
      (ScienceNOW, 4 November).

      Despite decades of study, researchers still don't know the basics
      about cosmic rays, including what causes them and where they come
      from. Supposed sources include supernovae, quasars, and black hole
      collisions (ScienceNOW, 4 October 2007). But until now, no one has
      connected cosmic-ray generation to a single event. And no one has been
      able to pinpoint a source; cosmic rays seem to emanate more or less
      consistently from all over the sky.

      Or perhaps not, a team from 16 institutions reports in Physical Review
      Letters. Using the Milagro observatory in Los Alamos, New Mexico,
      which detects cosmic-ray particles when they collide with water
      molecules in a pool on the ground, the researchers compiled nearly 7
      years' worth of data on about 220 billion cosmic-ray collisions. Based
      on those data, the researchers have found that two swaths of sky over
      the Northern Hemisphere--about where Orion sits--seem to be producing
      more cosmic rays than any other. The difference isn't much--about
      0.06% and 0.04%, respectively--but it's enough to stick out from the
      background activity. So far, the researchers say, they have ruled out
      the possibility of the zones being somehow caused by our sun or by the
      direction of the rays being warped by Earth's magnetic field. Other
      than that, however, the book is still open about what's causing these
      rays in the first place.

      Astrophysicist John Wefel of Louisiana State University in Baton
      Rouge, who authored a paper in last week's issue of Nature describing
      a similar discovery involving high-energy-electron cosmic rays, says
      both findings should stimulate a determined search for candidate
      sources. "It's not like [the hot spots] are standing way out from the
      background," he says, "but the fact that they're there at all is
      really interesting."




      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      The editors suggest the following Related Resources on Science sites:
      In ScienceNOW

      Solar Storm! Shields Up!
      Phil Berardelli (4 November 2008)
      ScienceNOW 2008 (1104), 1.
      | Full Text »

      Tracing the Trail of Cosmic Rays
      Phil Berardelli (4 October 2007)
      ScienceNOW 2007 (1004), 5.
      | Full Text »
      Source: ScienceNow
      http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2008/1124/2?etoc

      Posted by
      Robert Karl Stonjek

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