Feeds

Scientists scan for nukes with space rays

Like Superman, only better

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
prev story

Whitepapers

Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Mitigating web security risk with SSL certificates
Web-based systems are essential tools for running business processes and delivering services to customers.