Feeds

Scientists scan for nukes with space rays

Like Superman, only better

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

A new approach to endpoint data protection

US scientists plan to harness the by-products of cosmic rays to detect hidden nuclear material, probe Mexican pyramids and predict eruptions in volcanoes in Japan.

Several research groups speaking at the annual meeting of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), suggest using muons, charged particles formed when cosmic rays hit the atmosphere, to scan dense objects. A team in Mexico is already using so-called muon radiography to look for burial chambers in the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, and Japanese researchers are using a similar technique to look into the interior of volcanoes, to assess how likely they are to erupt. Meanwhile, scientists at the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico are exploring muon tracking as a way of seeing into closed containers going through customs.

Muons strike the Earth at a rate of about 10,000 per square metre every minute, and their courses are deflected by the material they pass through. Researchers can tell what kind of material they have passed through by how much their course changes, and because they are charged, these deflections are easy to track. All groups are tracking the paths of naturally occurring muons to obtain their data, a fact the US team sees as a big advantage over other scanning technologies, such as potentially harmful X-Rays or neutrons.

According to the Los Alamos researchers, truck drivers could remain in their vehicles while they are scanned. Christopher Morris, a member of the Los Alamos team explained that each scan lasts between 30 and 60 seconds, and the detectors can spot a four by four by four inch cube of uranium in a metal container full of sheep.

"We've been fighting the general perception that there are not enough muons to measure," Morris said. "There really are." The team is developing better software techniques to allow rapid 3-dimensional images of the volumes being screened, he added.

The detectors are still in a developmental phase, and are likely to cost around a million dollars a piece when they are ready for market. However, Morris says he is confident of the contribution the technology will make to the security of the US' borders. ®

Related stories

Heathrow x-ray weapons scanner, just say no
'We know you're in there!' - x-ray drug powers for UK police
Clarke's x-ray specs - police swoops, detectors for schools

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?