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Sichuan observatory may capture cosmic rays, challenge Einstein's theory

(Global Times)    09:49, August 04, 2016

An observatory being built in Sichuan Province aims to capture cosmic rays from outside the solar system and help to explore the evolution of the universe.

Construction began Wednesday on the Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO) in Daocheng county in Southwest China, 4,410 meters above sea level, Cao Zhen, chief scientist of LHAASO and research fellow at the Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Cosmic rays and their origin play an important role in exploring the universe and its evolution, said Cao, stressing that the rays are man's only way to obtain samples of substances outside the solar system.

He said that cosmic rays contain many messages that electromagnetic waves, a traditional subject in astronomy research, cannot deliver.

"Electromagnetic waves are signals accompanying a series of celestial events. By researching these "signals," man can discover the properties of materials, while cosmic rays deliver the particles to Earth. It's like the difference between observing the moon and getting samples directly from the moon," Cao explained.

"However, the origin of cosmic rays remains one of the physical world's mysteries ever since they were first discovered in 1912," said Cao. LHAASO's goal is to solve this mystery by capturing rarely-obtained cosmic rays, he noted.

"If the gamma ray bursts, the most intense star explosion so far known to man, are captured by LHAASO, Einstein's relativity theory may be challenged," Cao said.

"Despite significant progress in building new detectors and in analysis techniques, the key questions concerning the origin, acceleration and propagation of galactic cosmic rays are still open … The most ambitious and sensitive project between them is LHAASO," said Giuseppe Di Sciascio, an expert at the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, an institution for nuclear, particle and astro-particle physics in Italy, in his paper in 2015. The institution is collaborating with LHAASO.

LHAASO, which the government invested 1.2 billion yuan ($180 million) in, will be completed in two stages. The first stage is expected to be completed within 5 years, while the second stage in 6-7 years, said Cao.

More than 80 scientists from 16 Chinese institutions, including Tsinghua University and Peking University, joined the project, said the official website. Scientists from other countries, including France, Italy and Sweden are also participating in LHAASO, Xinhua reported.

"China's remarkable rise in high-quality research output is now well established, which is why we no longer consider the country a rising star," according to a press release of Nature Index 2016 Rising Stars in assessing research performance.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor: Huang Jin,Bianji)

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