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Pierre Auger Observatory

The image above, which appeared in Science in an article on Auger by Adrien Cho, was made by us.

The Pierre Auger Observatory in Malargue, Argentina, is a multinational collaboration of physicists trying to detect powerful cosmic rays from outer space. The energy of the particles here is above 1019eV, or over a million times more powerful than the most energetic particles in any human-made accelerator. No-one knows where these rays come from.

Such cosmic rays are very rare, hitting an area the size of a football field once every 10 000 years. This means you need an enormous 'net' to catch these mysterious ultra high energy particles. The Auger project will have, when completed, about 1600 detectors.

Each detector is a tank, like the one pictured above, and will be filled with 11 000 liters / 3000 gallons of pure water and sit about 1.5 km away from the next tank. This array on the Argentinian Pampas will cover an area of about 3000 km2 which is about the size of the state of Rhode Island or ten times the size of Paris. A second detection system sits on hills overlooking the Pampas and on dark nights captures a faint light or fluorescence caused by the shower particles colliding with the atmosphere.

Shown above is the shower created when a proton with energy 1019eV hits the atmosphere. (Color codes: muons, photons, electrons/positrons) Also shown is the array of 1600 tanks (size greatly exaggerated) superimposed over their actual location in Malargue (left) and over the same size area (100km x 100km) around Chicago, IL & southern Lake Michigan. For the record, this picture was used in Astronomy magazine's September 2005 article "Cosmic Rays radiate Radio Waves" by Liz Kruesi. It is also used on the Pierre Auger (Argentina) page.


More showers on our Cosmic Ray Showers page.

3d Models

These are animated 3d models of showers that you can move around and play with on Windows/*nix as long as the graphics cards are good enough (which is the case for most post-2002 machines). It also works in stereo on GeoWalls. Mac versions are untested.

Instructions on how to move the models displayed by Partiview (the viewer we use). (18 Mb) : the interactive animated 3d model used to make the animations below. The zip file also contains this documentation on how to run and use it. Windows users can click on shower.exe or shower.bat; the former has a more user-friendly interface made using a Director plugin made by Toshiyuki Takahei.


malargues_prot19ev_notanks_transp.mpeg (27Mb) : Simple animation around a 19eV proton shower over Malargues in Argentina. Tanks are not shown. Resolution is 720 x 576. Made for a documentary (which is why it ends up in water).
Variations with tanks: hi-res (29Mb), lo-res (3Mb)
proton19ev_cosmus.mpeg (6Mb) : A simple movie of this shower hitting Malargue and then Chicago. Resolution is 800 x 600. Best played at 15 fps.
approaching.mpeg (5Mb) : 720x576 movie of you heading into a 1019eV proton shower over Malargues. Hi-res version (15Mb). Individual frames (23 Mb)
zoomoutfrommalargues.mpeg (5Mb) : 720x576 movie showing the layout of tanks at Malargues. Hi-res version (55Mb). Email Dinoj if you want individual frames (375 Mb)
10 second .avi movies -- lo-res (5Mb), hi-res (20Mb) -- of the tank from different angles.
3d model in Blender used to make the movies.

Stereo Photographs

Stereo Photographs of the tanks and fluorescence detectors from the Observatory in Argentina by Randy Landsberg.


The visualizations and model data on this site are free and released under Creative Commons License 2.5. This means you can make derivative works of it, distribute it in any way you work, for both commercial and non-commercial work - as long as you give credit to us and to Sergio Sciutto for AIRES, the simulation package that generated the shower data.

Partiview, the software that actually displays the data and whose binary is included in the zip file conttaining each model, is released under its own (different but similarly friendly) license.


The visualizations here were made by Cosmus: Randy Landsberg, Dinoj Surendran, and Mark SubbaRao (U of Chicago / Adler Planetarium).

The shower simulations were done using Sergio Sciutto's huge and well-documented AIRES package.

The Auger scientists consulted in making this were Maximo Ave, Paolo Privitera, and Enrique Zas, all at the University of Chicago at the time.

Thanks to Beatriz Garcia of Auger for providing a picture of the Malargue site. And to Microsoft's Terraserver for the picture of the area around Lake Michigan.

The primary software used in making the visualizations was Partiview by Stuart Levy (NCSA/UIUC). Other software used: Blender, Pokescope, Wallview, and Director. Thanks also go to Toshiyuki Takahei (RIKEN) for plugging Partiview into Director.

Documentation by Dinoj, 9 March 2005.