The mysterious rays shooting at us from space
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The mysterious rays shooting at us from space

You may think the greatest, most perplexing
mysteries of the universe exist way way out there, at the edge of a black hole, or inside
an exploding star. But some of them surround us, all the time. I can show you. In this container, we’re going to catch
some super-fast subatomic particles that are raining down on us from space. They’re called cosmic rays. And exactly where some of them come from is
part of this 100-year-old mystery in physics. Cosmic rays are a form of radiation. “Rays” is a misnomer — they’re actually
little bits of atoms whizzing by us, even through us, all the time. Every square centimeter of Earth at sea level,
including the space at the top of your head, gets hit by one of these particles every minute. We can’t feel them, and they don’t cause
our bodies any harm, But they can, sometimes, do weird things:
Like make computers malfunction by messing with their memory. Scientists have been studying cosmic rays
since the early 1900s, when a physicist went up in a hot air balloon and discovered the
radiation increases the higher you go — meaning that it comes from somewhere in space. Since then, they’ve found out ways to make
these little bits of atoms visible — like we’re gonna do here. We’ve built something called a cloud chamber. Up here is felt that we’ve soaked with a
super-concentrated solution of rubbing alcohol. And at the bottom here is dry ice which is
super cold. So when the alcohol vapor goes down to the
bottom and gets really cold — it condenses and forms a cloud. And when the cosmic rays come shooting in
from space — the alcohol vapor forms into little droplets and you can actually trace
their path through the cloud. Hopefully. Okay, let’s look. Wait! I saw one! Yeah! The particles in our cloud chamber are traveling
from space at nearly the speed of light, as are the untold others passing by you and through
you right now. When they hit our atmosphere, the impact is
so powerful that the atoms of radiation burst open — tearing apart in violent, cascading
collisions. That’s what we see in the cloud chamber:
atomic shrapnel that has reached the ground. Scientists have determined that some of these
rays come from the sun’s atmosphere, in the form of solar wind, and others from exploding
stars. But the most powerful rays are the most puzzling
— they don’t even come from our own galaxy. They come from some unknown source out in
the universe. The energy from the very most powerful ray
recorded had enough power to turn on a light bulb for a second or more. That force is comparable to a top tennis pro
hitting a ball with all their strength. It doesn’t sound that impressive, but think
of this: all that energy is squeezed into an area smaller than an atom. To try to figure out what entity could be
shooting these incredibly powerful rays at us, scientists use massive cosmic ray observatories,
with detectors not too different from our cloud chamber. Well… you know, they’re on a higher budget
and they’re more advanced. One in the South Pole uses a block of ice,
a whole cubic kilometer, to track the rays instead of vapor. Another one in Argentina has 1,600 huge water
tanks, spread out over 1,000 square miles. But instead of just observing cosmic rays
as they shoot by, scientists use sophisticated technology to trace the atomic shrapnel backward. There, they can reconstruct the original cosmic
ray that hit at the top of the atmosphere. But confirming their source in the deep reaches
of space isn’t so easy, because these cosmic rays don’t always travel in a straight line. Instead, the various magnetic fields of the
universe and the galaxy, put them on bendy paths. Scientists have a few suggestions. The cosmic rays could be created in the violent
hearts of galaxies far away. Another leading hypothesis is that they’re
not produced by exploding stars, per se, but by bouncing around the shockwaves produced
by those explosions. There is also the possibility that some of
the rays are produced by forces and objects we don’t know about — or interact with
things like dark matter, in ways we don’t yet understand. Or they could come from strange objects left
over from the big bang. I mean aliens could be shooting these at us…
but I doubt it. What scientists need is more data, more observations
to be able to pinpoint the sources in the sky these particles are coming from. If scientists can figure out where the most powerful cosmic rays come from, it means they’re
discovering one of the most powerful things in the entire universe. Perhaps the most powerful thing in the entire universe. That might open up an entirely new branch
of physics, teaching us about how the universe was formed, and about how matter can be pushed
to the extreme. But until their origin is discovered, we can
think of cosmic rays as messengers from the broader universe. A reminder we’re a part of it, and that
there’s still a great deal of mystery out there.

100 thoughts on “The mysterious rays shooting at us from space

  1. If you all want to learn more about the mystery of cosmic rays, I wrote a much longer (and more detailed) explainer here: I just love thinking about the invisible things that surround us, and the great mysteries that can be found almost anywhere we look. If you have suggestions for other stories on fascinating, compelling mysteries, let me know! Email [email protected]

  2. Societal standards: So what have YOU been doing with your life lately?
    Me: I found some cheap avocados at the store today.
    Vox: I caught a cosmic ray in a fish tank.

  3. neutrinos are neutrally charged . so how can they be affected by magnetic fields , even assuming they are moving wrt to the stationary magnetic fields by nearby sources of fields ?

    edit : am refering to the 3:37 part where its said that magnetic fields alter the paths of a cosmic ray ( thus fundamentally its constituent particles ) . explain

  4. The stuff you see in the cloud chamber doesn't rly have to be cosmic rays….it could just be normal radiation all around us

  5. Incorrect that they don't do harm. They do harm us. The odds are low but they can smack the DNA and cause a cell to turn cancerous. The higher elevation you live– or the more you fly, the more likely this is to occur. Interestingly, Vox (sound like a familiar source?) did a story on the hazards of cosmic radiation and flying on Sept 4, 2015.

  6. What if those rays are just electronic/radioactive beams sent from different planets (similar to what we do) and we just can't decrpyt them?

  7. the scientific community calls them Neutrinos, which is not a misnomer. really disappointing you simply called cosmic rays.

  8. Me trying to create my own vapor chamber.
    mom walks in puzzled
    Mom: "What are you doing?"
    Me: "I'm making a vapor chamber"
    Mom: "Is that weed related?"
    Me: "….. sure"

  9. Please make a video about Amazon. Some ppl say it is the worst fire ever, other say this is normal for this time of the year. What is going on?

  10. This was amazing….just a question though why didn’t you add the part of scientists trying ways to conserve this energy?

  11. One thing for sure, on the 100% mysteries that human dont know only 1% can be answered before we wipe out our race

  12. this reminds me about that one supermario 64 player that warped to the top of the clock map & the speed running community figured out that it was most likely caused by a cosmic ray changing a bit that caused Mario to change his vertical position.

  13. KING: We are here to seek your masters help in our quest for Dark Matter!
    GUARD: I will tell him, but i dont' think he'll be very keen. He already has Dark Matter!
    KING: (to companions) Did he say they already have Dark Matter?
    GUARD: (to other guards) I told them we already have Dark matter! (snickers)

  14. Side note:

    Channels like these (Vox, Buzzfeed, etc.. ) they're pretty big companies right, I think? Is there an approval system for videos or do employees just have free reign to do whatever?

    Just curious

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