Pierre Auger Observatory
Control building in Malargüe
Named afterPierre Victor Auger Edit this on Wikidata
Province of Mendoza, Argentina
Coordinates35°12′24″S 69°18′57″W / 35.20667°S 69.31583°W / -35.20667; -69.31583
Observatory code I47 Edit this on Wikidata
Altitude1330 m–1620 m, average ~1400 m
Wavelength330–380 nm UV (Fluorescence detector), 1017–1021 eV cosmic rays (Surface detector)
Built2004–2008 (and taking data during construction)
Telescope styleHybrid (Surface + Fluorescence detectors)
WebsiteOfficial site
Pierre Auger Observatory is located in Argentina
Pierre Auger Observatory
Location of Pierre Auger Observatory
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The Pierre Auger Observatory is an international cosmic ray observatory in Argentina designed to detect ultra-high-energy cosmic rays: sub-atomic particles traveling nearly at the speed of light and each with energies beyond 1018 eV. In Earth's atmosphere such particles interact with air nuclei and produce various other particles. These effect particles (called an "air shower") can be detected and measured. But since these high energy particles have an estimated arrival rate of just 1 per km2 per century, the Auger Observatory has created a detection area of 3,000 km2 (1,200 sq mi)—the size of Rhode Island, or Luxembourg—in order to record a large number of these events. It is located in the western Mendoza Province, Argentina, near the Andes.

Construction began in 2000,[1] the observatory has been taking production-grade data since 2005 and was officially completed in 2008. The northern site was to be located in southeastern Colorado, United States and hosted by Lamar Community College. It also was to consist of water-Cherenkov detectors and fluorescence telescopes, covering the area of 10,370 km2—3.3 times larger than Auger South.

The observatory was named after the French physicist Pierre Victor Auger. The project was proposed by Jim Cronin and Alan Watson in 1992. Today, more than 500 physicists from nearly 100 institutions around the world[2] are collaborating to maintain and upgrade the site in Argentina and collect and analyse the measured data. The 15 participating countries shared the $50 million construction budget, each providing a small portion of the total cost.

Physical background

From outer space, ultra-high-energy cosmic rays reach Earth. These consist of single sub-atomic particles (protons or atomic nuclei), each with energy levels beyond 1018 eV. When such a single particle reaches Earth atmosphere, it has its energy dissipated by creating billions of other particles: electrons, photons and muons, all near the speed of light. These particles spread longitudinally (perpendicular to the single particle incoming route), creating a forward moving plane of particles, with higher intensities near the axis. Such an incident is called an "air shower". Passing through the atmosphere, this plane of particles creates UV light, invisible to the human eye, called the fluorescing effect, more or less in the pattern of straight lightning traces. These traces can be photographed at high speed by specialised telescopes, called Fluorescence Detectors, overlooking an area at a slight elevation. Then, when the particles reach the Earth's surface, they can be detected when they arrive in a water tank, where they cause visible blue light due to the Cherenkov effect. A sensitive photoelectric tube can catch these impacts. Such a station is called a water-Cherenkov Detector or 'tank'. The Auger Observatory has both types of detectors covering the same area, which allows for very precise measurements.

When an air shower hits multiple Cherenkov Detectors on the ground, the direction of the ray can be calculated using basic geometrics. The longitudinal axis point can be determined from the densities in each affected ground station. Depending on the time difference of impact places, the angle of the axis can be determined. Only when the axis would be vertical, all ground detectors register at the very same moment in time, and any tilting of the axis will cause a time difference between earliest and latest touchdown.[3]

Earlier observatories

Main article: Cosmic-ray observatory

Cosmic rays were discovered in 1912 by Victor Hess. He measured a difference in ionisation at different heights (using the Eiffel tower and a Hess-manned hot air balloon), an indication of the atmospheric thinning (so spreading) of a single ray. Influence of the Sun was ruled out by measuring during an eclipse. Many scientists researched the phenomenon, sometimes independently, and in 1937 Pierre Auger could conclude in detail that it was a single ray that interacted with air nuclei, causing an electron and photon air shower. At the same time, the third particle muon was discovered (behaving like a very heavy electron).


Surface detector (SD)

Surface detector (SD) station, or 'tank', of the Pierre Auger Observatory.

In 1967 University of Leeds had developed a water-Cherenkov detector (or surface station; a small water basin, 1.2 m deep; also called tank) and created a 12 km2 detection area Haverah Park using 200 such tanks. They were arranged in groups of four in a triangular (Y) ground pattern, the triangles in different sizes. The observatory worked for 20 years, and produced the main design parameters for the ground detection system at Auger Observatory. It was Alan Watson who in the later years led the research team and subsequently co-initiated Auger Observatory Collaboration.

Fluorescence detector (FD)

The Central Campus building in Malargüe.
Back view of a surface detector station.
One of four Fluorescence detector (FD) buildings.
SD station and AERA antenna in the foreground, one FD building and the three HEAT telescopes in the background.
AERA antenna with the Andes in the background

Meanwhile, from the Volcano Ranch (New Mexico, 1959–1978), the Fly's Eye (Dugway, Utah) and its successor the High Resolution Fly's Eye Cosmic Ray Detector called "HiRes" or "Fly's Eye" (University of Utah), the technique of the fluorescence detector was developed. These are optical telescopes, adjusted to picture UV light rays when looking over a surface area. It uses faceted observation (hence the fly's eye reference), to produce pixeled pictures at high speed. In 1992, James Cronin led the research and co-initiated the Auger Observation Collaboration.

Designing and building

The Pierre Auger Observatory is unique in that it is the first experiment that combines both ground detectors and fluorescence detectors at the same site thus allowing cross-calibration and reduction of systematic effects that may be peculiar to each technique. The Cherenkov detectors use three large photomultiplier tubes to detect the Cherenkov radiation produced by high-energy particles passing through water in the tank. The time of arrival of high-energy particles from the same shower at several tanks is used to calculate the direction of travel of the original particle. The fluorescence detectors are used to track the particle air shower's glow on cloudless moonless nights, as it descends through the atmosphere.

In 1995 at Fermilab, Chicago, the basic design was made for the Auger observatory. For half a year, many scientists produced the main requirements, and a cost estimation, for the projected Auger.[3] The observatory's area had to be reduced from 5000 km2 to 3000 km2.

When construction began, a full-scale prototype was set up first: the Engineering Array. This array consisted of the first 40 ground detectors and a single fluorescence detector. All were fully equipped. The engineering array operated for 6 months in 2001 as a prototype; it was later integrated into the main setup. It was used to make more detailed design choices (like which type of photomultiplier tube (PMT) to use, and tank water quality requirements) and to calibrate.[4]

In 2003, it became the largest ultra-high energy cosmic ray detector in the world. It is located on the vast plain of Pampa Amarilla, near the town of Malargüe in Mendoza Province, Argentina. The basic set-up consists of 1600 water Cherenkov Detectors or 'tanks', (similar to the Haverah Park experiment) distributed over 3,000 square kilometres (1,200 sq mi), along with 24 atmospheric Fluorescence Detector telescopes (FD; similar to the High Resolution Fly's Eye) overseeing the surface array.

To support the atmospheric measurements (FD measurements), supporting stations are added to the site:


Station Type Location
Ground station array 1600 surface detection stations (SD)
(centerpoint of area)
35°12′24″S 69°18′57″W / 35.20675°S 69.31597°W / -35.20675; -69.31597 (groundstations area (center point of 1600 surface detectors))
Los Leones 6 fluorescence detectors 35°29′45″S 69°26′59″W / 35.49584°S 69.44979°W / -35.49584; -69.44979 (Los Leones (6 FD))
Morados 6 fluorescence detectors 35°16′52″S 69°00′13″W / 35.28108°S 69.00349°W / -35.28108; -69.00349 (Morados (6 FD))
Loma Amarilla 6 fluorescence detectors 34°56′09″S 69°12′39″W / 34.93597°S 69.21084°W / -34.93597; -69.21084 (Loma Amarilla (6 FD))
Coihueco 6 fluorescence detectors 35°06′51″S 69°35′59″W / 35.11409°S 69.59975°W / -35.11409; -69.59975 (Coihueco (6 FD))
Observatory campus central office 35°28′51″S 69°34′14″W / 35.48084°S 69.57052°W / -35.48084; -69.57052 (Observatory campus)
Malargüe city 35°28′06″S 69°35′05″W / 35.46844°S 69.58478°W / -35.46844; -69.58478 (Malargüe)


The observatory has been taking good-quality data since 2005 and was officially completed in 2008.

In November 2007, the Auger Project team announced some preliminary results. These showed that the directions of origin of the 27 highest-energy events were correlated with the locations of active galactic nuclei (AGNs).[6] A subsequent test with a much larger data sample revealed however that the large degree of initially observed correlation was most probably due to a statistical fluctuation.[7]

In 2017, data from 12 years of observations enabled the discovery of a significant anisotropy of the arrival direction of cosmic rays at energies above 8×1018 eV. This supports that extragalactic sources (i.e. outside of our galaxy) for the origin of these extremely high energy cosmic rays (see Ultra-high-energy cosmic ray).[8] However, it is not yet known what type of galaxies are responsible for the acceleration of these ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. This question remains under investigation with the AugerPrime upgrade of the Pierre Auger Observatory.

The Pierre Auger Collaboration has made available (for outreach purposes) 1 percent of the ground array events below 50 EeV (1018 eV). Higher energy events require more physical analysis and are not published this way. The data can be explored at the Public Event Display web site.

As of October 2021, a portion of the data (10 percent) presented at the 2019 International Cosmic Ray Conference in Madison, USA, is publicly available.[9]


Research and development was done on new detection techniques and ([when?] to [when?])[citation needed] on possible upgrades to the observatory, including:

AugerPrime Upgrade

AugerPrime is a major upgrade of the Pierre Auger Observatory under construction since 2019:

All these enhancements aim at increasing the measurement accuracy of the Pierre Auger Observatory, in particular for the mass of the primary cosmic-ray particles.

In popular culture

Argentina issued 100,000 postage stamps honouring the observatory on 14 July 2007. The stamp shows a surface detector tank in the foreground, a building of fluorescence detectors in the background, and the expression "1020 eV" in large lettering.[10][11]

See also


  1. ^ "News 20/12/13". Archived from the original on 2007-11-12. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  2. ^ The Pierre Auger Collaboration: collaborators by institution
  3. ^ a b The Auger Collaboration (1995-10-31). "The Pierre Auger Project Design Report" (PDF). Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  4. ^ Abraham, J.; et al. (2004). "Properties and performance of the prototype instrument for the Pierre Auger Observatory" (PDF). Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment. 523 (1–2): 50–95. Bibcode:2004NIMPA.523...50A. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/j.nima.2003.12.012. S2CID 120233167. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  5. ^ Louedec, Karim (2011). "Atmospheric Monitoring at the Pierre Auger Observatory – Status and Update" (PDF). International Cosmic Ray Conference. 2: 63. Bibcode:2011ICRC....2...63L. doi:10.7529/ICRC2011/V02/0568. Retrieved 2013-06-12.
  6. ^ Science Magazine; 9 November 2007; The Pierre Auger Collaboration et al., pp. 938 - 943
  7. ^ Astrophys.J. 804 (2015) no.1, 15
  8. ^ "Study confirms cosmic rays have extragalactic origins". EurekAlert!. Retrieved 2017-09-22.
  9. ^ "Auger Open Data". Auger Collaboration. Retrieved 2 December 2022.
  10. ^ Analía Giménez (21 July 2007). "El laboratorio de rayos viaja al mundo en una estampilla" (in Spanish). Diario UNO de MENDOZA. Retrieved 2011-06-16.
  11. ^ "Observatorio Pierre Auger" (in Spanish). Foro de Filatelia Argentina. 29 July 2007. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-16.

Further reading