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Pierre Auger cosmic ray observatory: the sky at your feet

In Malargüe, the observatory extends on an area of eleven times the Federal Capital. 500 researchers from 90 institutions in
Observatorio de rayos cósmicos Pierre Auger: el cielo a sus pies
17 November, 2019

First, it was an ambitious idea in the mind of James Cronin, Nobel Prize in Physics in 1980. Then, a sketch drawn on a paper. Later, computational calculations to see if it was viable. In 1995, a meeting at UNESCO headquarters with representatives of three countries nominating to host the project: Australia, South Africa, Argentina. Twenty years later, it’s this: the cosmic ray observatory.

A particular observatory

A particular observatory, not with a telescope but with its detectors scattered in a area of 3,000 square kilometers of field in Malargüe — eleven times the Federal— at 1400 meters high, at the foot of the Cordillera de los Andes, in the province of Mendoza. 1660 surface detectors installed fifteen blocks away about others. Five buildings housing twenty-seven fluorescence detectors. Information of those detectors that scan the sky and become emitted data to the computers of the scientists that make up the observatory.

Research ontheDores from 16 countries — Argentina, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, Spain, United States, United States France, Netherlands, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and the Czech Republic — receiving data to reveal the origin and composition of particle size invisible and higher energy falling to Earth less often as their energy increases: the greatest mystery the sky keeps. Cosmic rays.

Zonda wind

Hot wind blows in Malargüe: in the area it is known as “zonda wind”. Route 40 is like Moses: it divides the city into two. The observatory building is not seen from the route: it is on the side, but it is covered by a tree fence. A winding road surrounded by flags of the sixteen countries that are members of the international collaboration leads to the door of the building, set in the middle of a neat park. It is an austere construction, has two floors and is painted in pink. On the top floor a huge window looks towards the park; on the second floor is the heart of the observatory.

It’s like a game of Russian dolls: a glazed room inside another glazed picture that looks outwards. The place is the Central Data Acquisition System (CDAS), the cluster that processes data coming from the sky through detectors in the field. It never rests: it has been active operating day and night since 2005. It’s full of CPUs stacked on top of each other from floor to ceiling. The green and yellow lights of each of those CPUs flickering rhythms in an infinite loop : they are the beats of this artificial heart.

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