New Telescope Could Help Solve Mysteries of the Universe

Calorimetric electron telescope could find where cosmic rays come from.

In the 1990s, scientists began floating balloons up to the edge of space to learn about an elusive energy force called cosmic rays. These experiments were quickly determined to be inconclusive.

However, NASA hopes to determine where these rays originate with the Calorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET). The telescope was recently established aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s Expedition 45.

The CALET Investigation

The CALET was developed by a research team led by Dr. Shorji Torii, a professor at the Waseda University Research Institute for Science and Engineering in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Sponsored by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), it is the first telescope of its type to be installed on the ISS.

The CALET has already begun data collection.

As a high-energy cosmic ray enters the telescope's calorimeter (circled), it is measured in two axes to enable 3D data processing. (Image courtesy of JAXA.)

As a high-energy cosmic ray enters the telescope’s calorimeter (circled), it is measured in two axes to enable 3D data processing. (Image courtesy of JAXA.)

In addition to its ability to identify the type of inbound particles, the telescope is capable of differentiating levels of energy in these particles. To do this effectively, the telescope is able to measure in the extremely high-energy region of Tera electron volts (TeV).

The CALET is also equipped with a star tracker and 3D data processing capabilities to identify the starting positions of particles and track their trajectories.

Dr. Torii demonstrates a model of the CALET. (Image courtesy of Waseda University.)

Dr. Torii demonstrates a model of the CALET. (Image courtesy of Waseda University.)

Discovering the Origins of Cosmic Rays

Where do cosmic rays originate? How do they accelerate with such force? Does this relate to the existence of dark matter?

The world of high-energy astrophysics has many questions about cosmic rays, their origins and galactic propagation and the CALET experiment may have the potential to answer these questions.

Currently, some researchers theorize that cosmic rays are the product of supernova explosions. Another theory states that the rays are created from the annihilation or decomposition of dark matter.

What Scientists Could Learn

The data collected by CALET will provide the first experimental evidence of any nearby sources of high-energy cosmic rays.

“Even if there are no significant discoveries, the new observations will allow us to better understand previously established theories,” said Dr. Torii. “I am really excited to see what data comes from these observations.”

This data could also have serious implications for space exploration. Establishing an inventory of the levels of this type of high-energy radiation in space could help characterize the radiation environment outside of near-earth orbits.

Once NASA determines the level of cosmic radiation between the planets and outside the solar system, engineers can begin to develop methods to better protect humans and equipment from this energy.

The CALET will spend the next two years aboard the ISS collecting data. Updates on the experiment will be available on the NASA website.

For more information, visit the Waseda Institute’s website.