Tuesday, 15 October 2019

roughly the kinetic energy of a well-pitched baseball

In operation from 1986 to 1993, the Fly’s Eye ultra-high-energy cosmic ray observatory in the desert of western Utah detected on this day in 1991 a particle whose excited state was off-the-charts with nothing remotely close ever seen again (see also), though similar subsequent events suggest that it is not a malfunction. This anomaly was dubbed the “Oh-My-God particle” (not to be confused with the God Particle) due to the wallop it packed. Though this probably does not sound like an astronomical amount, to take it in context, the importance of this reading begins to take shape.
The signal represented the energy carried by a single photon—as if a beam of light could nudge something aside, concentrated on one particle and represents something magnitudes stronger than any radiation measured from the gamma bursts of distant exploding galaxies (by some twenty million fold) and twice again as much as the CERN is able to create. The cosmic ray, to have attained the title heft, was propelled along at near the speed of light (one-sextillioneth shy—that is, nine-nine percent followed by twenty-one significant digits, short scale). Were it possible to boost the particle through the infinitesimal fraction, it would have the kinetic equivalent to the potential (chemical energy) of a small automobile on a full-tank of gasoline. The Oh-My-God particle and others approaching this class originate from the direction of the asterism Ursa Major though there is no consensus on the source.