The Observatory is exploring the mysteries of the highest energy cosmic rays – charged particles showering the Earth at energies 10 million times higher than the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator. Launched more than a decade ago under the auspices of UNESCO, the observatory is a network of 1600 sensors spread over 3000 km2 in Argentina.
The Auger Observatory is a ‘hybrid detector’, employing two independent methods to detect and study high-energy cosmic rays. One technique detects high energy particles through their interaction with water placed in surface detector tanks. The other technique tracks the development of air showers by observing ultraviolet light emitted high in the Earth's atmosphere.
The international collaboration in support of the Observatory formally got off the ground in a meeting at UNESCO headquarters based on Argentina’s offer to host the effort.
The project is named after former UNESCO Science Director Pierre Auger (1948-1958), who died in 1993. He is perhaps best-remembered for orchestrating UNESCO's key role in the founding of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, which launched the Large Hadron Collider on 21 October last year.
Pierre Auger was an experimental physicist, in the fields of atomic (photoelectric effect), nuclear (slow neutrons) and cosmic ray physics (atmospheric air showers). After his service with UNESCO, he served as Director of the Cosmic Physics Service at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (1959-1962) and as Director-General of the European Space Research Organization (1962-1967).
The Pierre Auger Collaboration involves about 350 scientists from Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, UK, USA and Vietnam. Nobel Laureate in Physics, James W. Cronin, of the University of Chicago, conceived the Pierre Auger Observatory, together with Alan Watson of the University of Leeds.