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Blog

BBC radio celebrates 101 years of cosmic rays

By Hamish Johnston

AMS is a modern version of Hess's balloon experiment. (Courtesy: NASA)

AMS is a modern version version of Hess’s balloon experiments. (Courtesy: NASA)

The BBC’s Melvyn Bragg has lots to talk about. Over the past few months he has chatted about the Icelandic sagas, water, Gnosticism, and much more on his Radio 4 programme In Our Time. So he can be forgiven for missing a centenary and celebrating cosmic rays 101 years after they were discovered by the Austrian physicist Victor Hess.

In his 45-minute programme, Bragg is joined by the physicists Alan Watson of the University of Leeds, Carolin Crawford of the University of Cambridge and Tim Greenshaw of the University of Liverpool.

What follows is a potted history of the cosmic ray from the hot-air-balloon experiments done by Hess to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which is measuring the charge and energy of cosmic rays in Earth orbit. You can listen to the discussion here.

Last year Physics World celebrated a century of cosmic-ray research in style with an article by Alan Watson entitled “100 years of cosmic rays”. We also made a short video at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta in honour of Hess’s 1912 ascent. The film follows the exploits of a group of students who took a cosmic-ray detector up in a balloon.

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