Built among other by Brazilians scientists, Pierre Auger cosmic ray observatory, installed in the province of Mendoza, in Argentina, is now one of the main scientific projects in progress worldwide and is the result of the joint efforts of institutions in 17 countries, including important participation of academic organizations and Brazilian industries.
The enterprise, which started being planned early last decade and was recently fully completed, has as its main objective explaining the origin of the rays, which may accumulate 100 million times more energy than the most powerful particle accelerator built by man.
"The observatory is composed of 1,600 detectors, many of which made in Brazil, spread over an area of 3,000 square kilometers, which detect particle showers due to the friction of cosmic rays high up in the atmosphere," said professor Carlos Escobar, Physics chair at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), who has been participating in the project since the beginning.
According to him, the complex also counts on 24 telescopes capable of identifying the light emitted by the "showers" while crossing the atmosphere.
"The idea is to try to discover where the rays come from, when they accumulate so much energy," said the professor. In November last year, the researchers announced, after discoveries made at the observatory, that the most probable origin of the phenomena is Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN).
AGNs, as explained by the scientists in the project, are, in thesis, activated by supermassive black holes that attract gas, dust and other materials from the galaxies in which they are located and issue energy particles. According to the researchers, most galaxies have black holes in their core, but just a small share have AGNs.
The cosmic rays that reach the Earth, formed by atom protons and nuclei that travel at speeds close to that of light, supposedly came from galaxies neighboring ours. How AGNs can accelerate particles with such energy remains a mystery.
Although the observatory only recently became ready, it has been collecting scientific figures since early 2004. In future, according to the Unicamp professor, when the scientists discover the mechanism for acceleration of the particles it should be possible, in thesis, to reproduce the phenomenon in laboratory.
According to Escobar, up to the moment, Brazil has had important participation in the intellectual, industrial and financing area of the project. The detection tanks and telescope components were made in the country. He points out that the equipment was not only produced, but also developed in Brazil.
In the financial area, the country invested US$ 3.5 million of the enterprise's entire budget, which was US$ 53 million. Together, Brazil and Argentina were responsible for 30% of the project, according to the Unicamp professor. On the whole, the observatory was financed by governments, through agencies for research incentive and donations.
Escobar also points out that participation in the initiative has produced practical results for the country. "Interaction between academia and industry is important. Industry benefits greatly from these relations, with the improvement of the quality of products and processes and innovation," he said.
In the point of view of academia, the project contributes to the formation of new scientists. Apart from that, the Brazilian presence in the project provides greater visibility to scientific activities in the country. Just to have an idea, the results announced in November were published in renowned scientific magazines, like Science and Nature, and presented at the American Physics Society.
The project was idealized in 1992 by the North American Nobel Prize winner James Cronin, from the University of Chicago, who soon joined forces with the Scottish Alan Watson, from the University of Leeds, in the United Kingdom.
It officially started being executed in 1995, after a meeting organized at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in Paris, and received the name of the French physicist who first observed the particle "showers" that result from the entry of cosmic rays into the Earth's atmosphere. Pierre Victor Auger was also the first scientific director at UNESCO.
Brazil has been present since the beginning, being Escobar the first chairman of Pierre Auger Collaboration. Ronald Shellard, of the Brazilian Center for Physical Research (CBPF), in Rio de Janeiro, is currently the vice president.
Construction of the observatory itself began in 1999. Now around 350 people work on the project, being 26 at the site. The countries participating, apart from Brazil and Argentina, are Australia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Bolivia, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
From Brazil, the academic institutions participating are the CBPF, Unicamp, PUC Rio de Janeiro, the University of São Paulo (USP), the State University of Feira de Santana (Uefs), the University of Southeastern Bahia (Uesb), the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), the Federal University of the ABC, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Fluminense Federal University.
The Brazilian sponsoring agencies involved are the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), the Studies and Projects Funding Body (Finep), the State of Rio de Janeiro Research Foundation (Faperj), the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (Fapesp) and the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Auger Collaboration is already developing the project for a second observatory, an even greater one, to be built in the state of Colorado, in the United States.
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