Feeds

Scientists scan for nukes with space rays

Like Superman, only better

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

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

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Brit balloon bod Bodnar overflies North Pole
B-64 amateur ultralight payload approaching second circumnavigation
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?