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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 20:19 GMT 21:19 UK
China plans cosmic ray hunt
stars
Cosmic rays are the most energetic particles in the Universe
China and Italy are co-operating to build the largest laboratory in the world for observing one of the most mysterious forces in the Universe: cosmic rays.

The $13m observatory will be built in uninhabited mountains in southern Tibet, at Yangbajain, 4,700 metres (15,500 feet) above sea level, the official Chinese Xinhua News Agency said on Friday.

Construction will begin next month.

The high, dry air should make for ideal conditions to observe cosmic rays, Xinhua said.

Scientific mystery

The ultra-high energy particles leave faint fluorescent blue streaks that flash too quickly for the human eye as they slam into the Earth's atmosphere from outer space.

Hubble Space Telescope
Colliding galaxies may produce cosmic rays
Although smaller than an atom, cosmic rays are the most energetic particles in the Universe - up to 100 million times stronger than the most powerful atom smasher.

No one knows where the rays come from, or why they are so strong. Some scientists believe they may be somehow hurled into outer space by black holes - collapsing stars whose gravity is so powerful even light cannot escape.

Italy contributes $9m

The Italian Government will contribute $9m to construction, with China covering the rest, according to Xinhua.

The new facility will join a smaller observatory built at the same site with Japanese help in 1990.

The experimental hall of the new laboratory is designed to cover 10,000 sq m, of which 5,000 sq m will be installed with cosmic ray detectors, said Meng Xianru, head of the smaller observatory.

The existing lab employs scientists from 12 countries. When the new observatory becomes operational it will open to scientists from around the world, Meng said.

Currently, the largest cosmic ray observatory is the $14m Fly's Eye observatory in Utah.

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30 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
X-raying the violent Universe
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