Cosmic Ray Detection

  1 min read  


Cosmic rays are high energy particles impacting the Earth’s atmosphere, generating a cascade of secondary particles (CERN, 2018). When they hit an atom, energy is released as light (Vanderbilt University, 2018). The sensor in a camera is a device that captures light and converts it into digital data (TechHive, 2018). The engineering goal is to program a computer to detect cosmic rays inexpensively. The question is: Does the detection of cosmic rays change in different locations? The hypothesis is: If cosmic rays are detected in different locations, then the location with the lowest altitude will have the highest concentration of cosmic rays. First, the webcam on a computer was taped over, to block ambient light from being detected. Next, a program was written in Python that captures images in series and analyses each pixel to determine that pixel’s color. Pixels lighter than a determined background threshold, the program counts a cosmic ray detection. 100 frames of data were collected at eight altitudes and 10 locations. Collected data was averaged and graphed for each elevation in order to compare the number of cosmic ray detections. The engineering goal was achieved, however the program did not accurately detect cosmic rays. Many photon hits were identified by the program, but no relationship was shown between location/elevation and number of detections. Likely, the program needs to be modified because it detects far more cosmic rays than would be expected for the number of trials. As a result, the hypothesis was inconclusive.