Discovery leads to more questions than answers.

On 27 May, 2021, Professor Toshihiro Fujii of Osaka Municipal University was monitoring cosmic rays when he detected a sub-atomic particle that hit Earth with an energy of 244 exaelectron volts. 

That’s about the energy a bowling ball would have if you dropped it, which might not sound like much until you take into account the ridiculously massive difference in scale between a bowling ball and a subatomic particle. If an actual bowling ball contained the proportionally same amount of energy, it would be powerful enough to destroy all life on Earth, if not obliterate the planet itself.

So, needless to say, it’s a pretty power-packed little particle, and when Fujii detected it, he did what all good scientists do and immediately suspected it might be some kind of mistake. After detecting the particle in the Telescope Array project in the deserts of Utah he spent the next two years gathering the necessary evidence to confirm his discovery was correct.

Fujii and colleagues also named it the “Amaterasu Particle” after the ancient Japanese goddess of the Sun and the universe. This was in part due to the mysteriously inexplicable origin of the cosmic ray. Particles packing this kind of energy are generally believed to have come from a major celestial cataclysm like a supernova, but the Amaterasu Particle seems to have originated from a patch of space known as the Local Void which, as you can probably guess from the name, has a whole lot of nothing in it.

A quick explanation of the Local Void

This means that it could have come from something somewhere beyond the Local Void where we can’t observe. Another possibility is that cosmic rays are often at the mercy of magnetic fields that can make their courses somewhat irregular as they travel through the universe. However, a particle this powerful would be expected to just blast through all that and move along a steady path. This opens the door for other theories such as a distortion in spacetime, but nothing that can be proven.

For the record, the Amaterasu Particle is not the most powerful cosmic ray detected on Earth. That title goes to the Oh-My-God Particle found in 1991 with an energy of 320 exaelectron volts. In a possibly intentional way, this kind of fits the name too, since Amaterasu was the daughter of the original creator deities, making her a second-tier goddess in legend too. 

Regardless, many readers of the news in Japan seem to agree that the Amaterasu Particle has a much better name than the Oh-My-God Particle.

“That’s such a great name!”
“It’s so romantic.”
“‘Amaterasu Particle’ is a very noble name.”
“Sounds like something from Gundam.”
“‘Oh-My-God Particle’ is kind of lame.”
“I’m not sure about the name, but it is better than ‘OMG Particle.'”
“Is it OK to have stuff like that raining down on us?”

Luckily, the Earth’s atmosphere does a pretty good job at shielding us from the effects of cosmic rays, but they are seen as a potential problem when it comes to extraterrestrial travel. That’s why we should be thankful for all the scientists, space agencies, and ramen restaurants out there thoroughly investigating the behavior and effects of cosmic rays, so we can learn how to cope with them and perhaps unlock some deeper secrets of the universe.

Source: Osaka Municipal University, The Sankei News, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Wikipedia
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