The study of the most energetic extraterrestrial radiation or "cosmic rays" is a major thrust of current astrophysics research. Particles with enormous energies regularly strike the Earth from within our galaxy and beyond. However, progress in the field of high-energy cosmic rays is currently limited by the rarity of the most interesting rays striking the Earth. Indeed, the continuation of the field beyond the current generation of observatories may become financially and practically impossible if new ways are not found to achieve remote coverage over large portions of the Earth's surface.
This award will support the development of the world's first bistatic radar observatory for the highest-energy cosmic rays that can be used to measure the astrophysically important characteristics of cosmic ray air showers. The new technique involves the remote sensing via the bistatic radar technology of cosmic ray induced extensive air showers and builds on pilot studies performed by MARIACHI which have demonstrated that air shower radar echoes are detectable.
Broader Impacts: The bistatic radar technique will allow high-energy cosmic ray research to proceed at a substantial savings in cost. In addition, this project has great potential for connecting the local community to the astrophysics research currently being conducted in Utah. Radar techniques similar to those being proposed here for cosmic ray studies have long been utilized in the study of micrometeors, and this group has already hosted public events in which visitors to the Millard County Cosmic Ray Center "listen" to meteor showers and learn about the cosmic ray project.