Universal service

In cosmic connectivity news, a hotspot of powerful, ultrahigh-energy particles may help scientists answer a century-old question: can we get a decent wi-fi signal in Ursa Major?

Gordon Thomson, of the University of Utah, worked with a team of scientists to capture 72 cosmic rays over a period of five years.  The signals were captured by the Telescope Array cosmic ray observatory, an isolated pavillion with a solar panel on the roof next to a telephone pole (above).  (Disclaimer: Based on the lack of reference points, this might just be an uncomfortable lounge chair.)

Thomson is the co-principle investigator for the Telescope Array observatory.  “Our main principle is ‘No findings, no grant money’.  Our co-principle is ‘Don’t be too specific.’  That’s where I come in.  I make sure that our findings are vague enough that they can’t be contradicted.”

Asked to describe his findings, Thomson said, “All we see is a blob in the sky, and inside this blob there is all sorts of stuff — various types of objects.”  He added,  “Now we know where to look,” referring to the blob of stuff and objects. 

“This puts us closer to finding out the sources — but no cigar yet,” Thomson said in a statement.  “We have a quarter of our events in that circle instead of 6 percent,” collaborator Charlie Jui, also from the University of Utah, said in the same statement.  (He was later asked to say this in a different statement, so reporters could understand the two men.)

“We have a quarter of our events in that circle instead of 6 percent,” Jui said in a statement that didn’t overlap a statement from Thomson.

Discovered in 1912 (and quickly undiscovered a month later), wireless internet connections are thought to consist of barely readable tweets, or Instagram pictures of disgruntled cats.  These messages stream in with energies reaching as high as 300 billion billion (300 million million million) electron volts, providing up to 3 bars of coverage in some areas of the Big Dipper.

Hotspots are classified as “wi-fi” if they carry the energy of 1 billion billion (1 thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand) electron volts, comparable to the energy of 12 very angry birds or a pound of crushed candy.

19 of the detected signals came from a 40-degree circle in the sky.  Scientists refused to talk about the other 320 degrees of the circle, calling that “geometry work”.

The hotspot region of the sky lies near the supergalactic plane, which has powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary galactic planes.  Jui describes the hotspot’s location as “a couple of hand widths (approx. 6 inches) below the Big Dipper’s handle.  We think it’s a Starbucks, or maybe a Barnes & Noble.”

Jui said that the region would appear like any other region in the sky to regular optical telescopes, which are too lame to see blobs of stuff.

“It tells us there is at least a good chance these are coming from matter we can see, as opposed to matter that we imagined so we could finish the research,” Jui said.

The odds that the hotspot is a statistical fluke are only 1.4 in 10,000, according to researchers who think a circle is only 40 degrees.

The research was recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, and will be printed as soon as the results are tabulated and converted from hieroglyphics and emoticons into actual letters.  A preprint of the article may be found online under its original title Ankh Hawk-headed-guy Ankh Frowny-face Winky-face Jackal.

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