The relatively young research field of astroparticle physics has been developing dynamically over the last years. It connects

  • particle physics (describing the interactions of elementary particles) with
  • astrophysics (describing up to the biggest structures in the universe) and with
  • cosmology (studying the history of the universe).

One of the very interesting topics in astroparticle physics is trying to understand the acceleration mechanisms of cosmic ray particles to very high energies, much higher than accelerators on Earth can reach.

image credit:
ESO/WFI (Optical);
MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. (Submillimetre);
NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al. (X-ray)

One of many cosmic particle accelerators is shown in the image of the ICD: the active galaxy Centaurus A. It harbours a super massive black hole in its centre with jets and lobes of highly energetic particles emanating from it. Those are only seen in radio and X-ray (blue and orange colour respectively), while part of the visible light from stars in the galaxy ( shown white) is blocked by a dust layer.

The universe is a big place and full of different accelerators. Cosmic rays drift around and get energy boosts from multiple sources. When cosmic rays happen to strike the Earth's upper atmosphere, they initiate Extended Air Showers. These events create thousands of secondary particles that simultaneously reach a small section of Earth's surface. On the ICD we will focus on one questions, which will be addressed by student experiments:

  • Zenith angle distribution of air shower particles
    Can you find out if the number of air shower particles arriving from the horizon is the same as from above? If it is not, what could cause this effect?

There are many scientific experiments with huge detectors that aim to unlock the secrets of cosmic rays. In principle their detectors apply similar techniques as the detectors used for the ICD. If you are interested, have a look on the webpages of the following experiments: ANTARESAugerBAIKALFermiHAWC, H.E.S.S.IceCubeMAGICTelescope ArrayVERITASCherenkov Telescope Array .