Cosmic Ray Eclipse Project
While most of North America was gaping at the August 21 eclipse, for four ICJA student scientists and physics teacher, Mr. Allen Sears, the solar eclipse was the apex of months of research and data gathering.
Despite school still not in session, Academy students Tamar Dallal, Masha Matten, Ezra Schur and Jacob Miller spent August 16-21 at Jefferson College, in Hillsboro, Missouri collecting data to measure the eclipse’s effect on cosmic rays. The college’s location was in the path of the total eclipse. The group took part in an experiment coordinated by the Quarknet group to measure any changes in cosmic ray activity during the total solar eclipse.
On the first day, our student scientists spent several hours assembling their four cosmic ray detectors to start all of the data runs and get baseline counts that they now are comparing to data from the eclipse day.
Two of the detectors were set up at a fixed angle pointing towards the total eclipse location. One of the detectors followed the sun during the day, and the final one was pointed straight upwards into empty sky.
Spending the four days in Missouri meant organizing and cooking kosher meals on a propane stove and preparing for Shabbat there as well.
Mr. Sears explains:
We detected the cosmic rays by using muon counters constructed by Academy students over 10 years ago at another Quarknet workshop. A muon is a fundamental particle that is created when a cosmic ray collides with the Earth’s atmosphere. It has all the properties of an electron, but is about 200 times more massive. Because they are traveling at nearly the speed of light, time dilation keeps them from decaying until they reach the surface of the Earth where our detectors count them. We built a telescope using these muon counters to measure muons around the region of the sky where the eclipse happened. Academy students took background and proof-of-concept measurements for months. Our students are currently working on putting together a paper explaining their work with measuring muon flux rate versus various overlap schemes of muon counters.