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The mysterious rays shooting at us from space


You may think the greatest, most perplexing
mysteries of the universe exist way way out
there, at the edge of a black hole, or inside
an exploding star.
But some of them surround us, all the time.
I can show you.
In this container, we’re going to catch
some super-fast subatomic particles that are
raining down on us from space.
They’re called cosmic rays.
And exactly where some of them come from is
part of this 100-year-old mystery in physics.
Cosmic rays are a form of radiation.
“Rays” is a misnomer — they’re actually
little bits of atoms whizzing by us, even
through us, all the time.
Every square centimeter of Earth at sea level,
including the space at the top of your head,
gets hit by one of these particles every minute.
We can’t feel them, and they don’t cause
our bodies any harm,
But they can, sometimes, do weird things:
Like make computers malfunction by messing
with their memory.
Scientists have been studying cosmic rays
since the early 1900s, when a physicist went
up in a hot air balloon and discovered the
radiation increases the higher you go — meaning
that it comes from somewhere in space.
Since then, they’ve found out ways to make
these little bits of atoms visible — like
we’re gonna do here.
We’ve built something called a cloud chamber.
Up here is felt that we’ve soaked with a
super-concentrated solution of rubbing alcohol.
And at the bottom here is dry ice which is
super cold.
So when the alcohol vapor goes down to the
bottom and gets really cold — it condenses
and forms a cloud.
And when the cosmic rays come shooting in
from space — the alcohol vapor forms into
little droplets and you can actually trace
their path through the cloud.
Hopefully.
Okay, let’s look.
Wait!
I saw one!
Yeah!
The particles in our cloud chamber are traveling
from space at nearly the speed of light, as
are the untold others passing by you and through
you right now.
When they hit our atmosphere, the impact is
so powerful that the atoms of radiation burst
open — tearing apart in violent, cascading
collisions.
That’s what we see in the cloud chamber:
atomic shrapnel that has reached the ground.
Scientists have determined that some of these
rays come from the sun’s atmosphere, in
the form of solar wind, and others from exploding
stars.
But the most powerful rays are the most puzzling
— they don’t even come from our own galaxy.
They come from some unknown source out in
the universe.
The energy from the very most powerful ray
recorded had enough power to turn on a light
bulb for a second or more.
That force is comparable to a top tennis pro
hitting a ball with all their strength.
It doesn’t sound that impressive, but think
of this: all that energy is squeezed into
an area smaller than an atom.
To try to figure out what entity could be
shooting these incredibly powerful rays at
us, scientists use massive cosmic ray observatories,
with detectors not too different from our
cloud chamber.
Well… you know, they’re on a higher budget
and they’re more advanced.
One in the South Pole uses a block of ice,
a whole cubic kilometer, to track the rays
instead of vapor.
Another one in Argentina has 1,600 huge water
tanks, spread out over 1,000 square miles.
But instead of just observing cosmic rays
as they shoot by, scientists use sophisticated
technology to trace the atomic shrapnel backward.
There, they can reconstruct the original cosmic
ray that hit at the top of the atmosphere.
But confirming their source in the deep reaches
of space isn’t so easy, because these cosmic
rays don’t always travel in a straight line.
Instead, the various magnetic fields of the
universe and the galaxy, put them on
bendy paths.
Scientists have a few suggestions.
The cosmic rays could be created in the violent
hearts of galaxies far away.
Another leading hypothesis is that they’re
not produced by exploding stars, per se, but
by bouncing around the shockwaves produced
by those explosions.
There is also the possibility that some of
the rays are produced by forces and objects
we don’t know about — or interact with
things like dark matter, in ways we don’t
yet understand.
Or they could come from strange objects left
over from the big bang.
I mean aliens could be shooting these at us…
but I doubt it.
What scientists need is more data, more observations
to be able to pinpoint the sources in the
sky these particles are coming from.
If scientists can figure out where the most
powerful cosmic rays come from, it means they’re
discovering one of the most powerful things
in the entire universe.
Perhaps the most powerful thing in the entire universe.
That might open up an entirely new branch
of physics, teaching us about how the universe
was formed, and about how matter can be pushed
to the extreme.
But until their origin is discovered, we can
think of cosmic rays as messengers from the
broader universe.
A reminder we’re a part of it, and that
there’s still a great deal of mystery out
there.

Randall Smitham

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100 COMMENTS

  1. Brian Resnick Posted on August 30, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    If you all want to learn more about the mystery of cosmic rays, I wrote a much longer (and more detailed) explainer here: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/7/16/17690740/cosmic-rays-universe-theory-science I just love thinking about the invisible things that surround us, and the great mysteries that can be found almost anywhere we look. If you have suggestions for other stories on fascinating, compelling mysteries, let me know! Email [email protected]

    Reply
  2. Ryan Posted on August 31, 2019 at 1:09 am

    the scientific community calls them Neutrinos, which is not a misnomer. really disappointing you simply called cosmic rays.

    Reply
  3. シFloofie_Pan Posted on August 31, 2019 at 1:14 am

    Awesome! ❤️

    Reply
  4. Kevin Morrison Posted on August 31, 2019 at 1:40 am

    Read some of the posts to this video and tell me again these rays are not harming some of us!

    Reply
  5. Jex Sollis Posted on August 31, 2019 at 1:42 am

    Sounds like Dust from the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman.

    Reply
  6. Oscar Tango Posted on August 31, 2019 at 1:45 am

    You shouldn't record on your laptop mic in the bathroom

    Reply
  7. SpideyKnight Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:00 am

    But can they give you superpowers?

    Reply
  8. Robert Ramirez Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:05 am

    Vox is amazing

    Reply
  9. Leon Campa Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:06 am

    Me trying to create my own vapor chamber.
    mom walks in puzzled
    Mom: "What are you doing?"
    Me: "I'm making a vapor chamber"
    Mom: "Is that weed related?"
    Me: "….. sure"

    Reply
  10. Kate Rin Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:16 am

    Mabye it's just 👽 trying to contact us from the other side of the universe.

    Reply
  11. THELOLINN LORD Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:20 am

    Cosmic rays aren't Cosmic ray there Stormtroopers lasers

    Reply
  12. BariumCobaltNitrog3n Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:30 am

    More research is needed

    Reply
  13. Roogs209 Posted on August 31, 2019 at 3:03 am

    Well it’s definitely not from Dark Matter, bc DM doesn’t exist

    Reply
  14. Jayen Dabian Posted on August 31, 2019 at 3:04 am

    Do a video on LionFish!

    Reply
  15. Alysson Almeida Posted on August 31, 2019 at 3:11 am

    Please make a video about Amazon. Some ppl say it is the worst fire ever, other say this is normal for this time of the year. What is going on?

    Reply
  16. Elliot W. Posted on August 31, 2019 at 3:11 am

    whyd the title change tho

    Reply
  17. Balya Brain Posted on August 31, 2019 at 3:25 am

    Idk, the video is so random, i dont even understand anything, but i like it

    Reply
  18. Siddharth Singh Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:12 am

    This was amazing….just a question though why didn’t you add the part of scientists trying ways to conserve this energy?

    Reply
  19. Tony Perri Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:25 am

    Came here to say:

    the sun is a deadly laser

    Reply
  20. Shivam Adhikari Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:31 am

    ……I hate science

    Reply
  21. Mexico is trash Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:33 am

    Me : I don’t understand this

    Teacher: Which part?

    Me: Yes

    Reply
  22. Saurabh Parmar Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:36 am

    Why change the title of this?

    Reply
  23. Saurabh Parmar Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:37 am

    You need to up your video title game. Great content though 👍

    Reply
  24. content404 Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:38 am

    Are we all gonna glance over that x = 2(3) is supposed to be some kind of physics equation? 0:28

    Reply
  25. jake shaw Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:58 am

    I’m pretty sure that was a hair

    Reply
  26. Jon Gaull Posted on August 31, 2019 at 5:04 am

    What's shrapenel?

    Reply
  27. HgihAsFcuk Posted on August 31, 2019 at 5:13 am

    Hey That's pretty cool!

    Reply
  28. Joshua Taylor Madison Posted on August 31, 2019 at 5:14 am

    The Universe is slowly microwaving us.

    Reply
  29. Shashank Shukla Posted on August 31, 2019 at 5:23 am

    It won't open a new branch of physics as much as start a space arms race.

    Reply
  30. B8848NP Posted on August 31, 2019 at 5:33 am

    are those blue hazy clouds of flares seen in pictures taken from camera are cosmic rays?

    Reply
  31. Eapen George Posted on August 31, 2019 at 5:35 am

    May be the reason for all that dandruff on my head….. 🙂

    Reply
  32. EnigmaticEffigy Posted on August 31, 2019 at 5:38 am

    What's the photo of the man standing next to pipes near the end of the video?

    Reply
  33. Erwin Buntod Posted on August 31, 2019 at 5:53 am

    One thing for sure, on the 100% mysteries that human dont know only 1% can be answered before we wipe out our race

    Reply
  34. TheUnatuber Posted on August 31, 2019 at 6:17 am

    Clearly, they're being sent by Satan.

    Reply
  35. tori the cool gamer Posted on August 31, 2019 at 6:19 am

    i cant focus with his annoyin

    Reply
  36. International Harvester Posted on August 31, 2019 at 6:26 am

    If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have the Fantastic Four

    Reply
  37. socks Posted on August 31, 2019 at 6:39 am

    this reminds me about that one supermario 64 player that warped to the top of the clock map & the speed running community figured out that it was most likely caused by a cosmic ray changing a bit that caused Mario to change his vertical position.

    Reply
  38. Flightness Snowbirb Posted on August 31, 2019 at 6:48 am

    0:37 – 0:42

    My personal bubble though 🙁

    Reply
  39. Tessa Rossa Posted on August 31, 2019 at 7:00 am

    KING: We are here to seek your masters help in our quest for Dark Matter!
    GUARD: I will tell him, but i dont' think he'll be very keen. He already has Dark Matter!
    KING: (to companions) Did he say they already have Dark Matter?
    GUARD: (to other guards) I told them we already have Dark matter! (snickers)

    Reply
  40. CrazyFanaticMan Posted on August 31, 2019 at 7:08 am

    Side note:

    Channels like these (Vox, Buzzfeed, etc.. ) they're pretty big companies right, I think? Is there an approval system for videos or do employees just have free reign to do whatever?

    Just curious

    Reply
  41. Dekira Posted on August 31, 2019 at 7:10 am

    so you're telling me that those annoying things i always see moving around me are.. cosmic rays?

    Reply
  42. Nikola Tesla Posted on August 31, 2019 at 7:16 am

    Them aliens checking in on the Area 51 raid

    Reply
  43. Philippic Comments Posted on August 31, 2019 at 7:50 am

    It’s just the god sneezing 🤧 all the time

    Reply
  44. Divya Soin Posted on August 31, 2019 at 7:52 am

    Dr. Stone intensifies

    Reply
  45. AdamUPNow Posted on August 31, 2019 at 7:52 am

    Maybe we can harness the energy they have and capture it when it passes by.

    Reply
  46. Vishwa Mithra Posted on August 31, 2019 at 7:59 am

    Ever heard of Unruh effect? That is where these rays comes from. Remember, space expanding …Faster than light…So chances are very high that it is due to the Unruh effect

    Reply
  47. Adam Ali Posted on August 31, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Do other planets experience cosmic rays?

    Reply
  48. Marcus A.H. Posted on August 31, 2019 at 8:20 am

    Why is your intonation and your s’ so bad?

    Reply
  49. Adithya Prakash Posted on August 31, 2019 at 8:43 am

    At least I know what I'm gonna make for my Science Exhibition!

    Reply
  50. Sachin Dev Posted on August 31, 2019 at 8:53 am

    This is the ways of God Particle Yogis used to grow their God Consciousness. Manifest it and use it betterment in the way we want

    Reply
  51. PSP Posted on August 31, 2019 at 9:00 am

    2:02 Are they radiation or are they atoms ?

    Reply
  52. Landon Brown Posted on August 31, 2019 at 9:39 am

    Shrap-a-null

    Reply
  53. Maaz ahmed Posted on August 31, 2019 at 9:57 am

    9th grade science studnets where you at?

    Reply
  54. DARKSTAR 7567 Posted on August 31, 2019 at 9:59 am

    What is the song in the intro

    Reply
  55. J.London Posted on August 31, 2019 at 10:15 am

    This reminds me so much of dust from the book series His Dark Materials! I need to make an Amber Spyglass so i can see these particles

    Reply
  56. DannyDaDuffyDucking Daffer Posted on August 31, 2019 at 10:30 am

    Here I come Silver Surfer get ready

    Reply
  57. Rafael Palacio Posted on August 31, 2019 at 11:04 am

    So Cosmic rays give computers Alzheimer's

    Reply
  58. Siva Sankar.N Posted on August 31, 2019 at 11:04 am

    By shrapnel, you mean 'neutrinos'?

    Reply
  59. D0A17599 Posted on August 31, 2019 at 11:06 am

    I say we nuke them!

    Reply
  60. hxjr. Posted on August 31, 2019 at 11:19 am

    Ancient astronaut theorists say “Yes”

    Reply
  61. Daniel Magalhães Posted on August 31, 2019 at 11:47 am

    This guy speaking sound like Louis CK impersonating annoying people

    Reply
  62. Kacper Włodarczyk Posted on August 31, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    I love vox so much

    Reply
  63. Rayan Hachem Posted on August 31, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    It's the Eye of Terror

    Reply
  64. I'm Umen Posted on August 31, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Cant the particles you saw in the cloud chamber have been other particles? Like photons or muons?

    Reply
  65. IIIAbacrombiEIII Posted on August 31, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    When you sit on running train, you have impression that the world is moving, when you stay in place. How do scientist now that particles are bombarding us? Maybe everything material in our scence, is just moving forward and those particles just splashing on us like flies on shield of moving vehicle? Where and why- It's irrelevant and probably forever unknown for us or maybe just 42 🙂

    Reply
  66. Zerosblade13 Posted on August 31, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    The most powerful thing in the universe is love!
    That's the power of love!

    Reply
  67. Kaustubh Sharma Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    we'll find out the source at area 51

    Reply
  68. Sterling Mozel Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    It's odviesly the aliens attacking us

    Reply
  69. Jared Jeanotte Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Someone’s been listening to Radio Lab 📻 🔬

    Reply
  70. Ambas Family Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    the cosmic rays come from leftover alien shooting games

    Reply
  71. fidel catsro Posted on August 31, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    sounds like free energy source!!

    Reply
  72. Back Stabba Posted on August 31, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Dude got sugar in his tank.

    Reply
  73. Ereri Stark Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    Rays are actually mana/magicules but we've yet to realize how use them! Magic exists y'all. We need to harvest the Mana!!!

    Reply
  74. Rick Blain Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    Cosmic rays are not mysterious. As far back as LGM1 and beyond, people have fallen for their need for mysteries, even when there are none.

    Reply
  75. Anh Tran Posted on August 31, 2019 at 4:36 pm

    Duh! That's the rays from the infinity stones…

    Reply
  76. Shreekesh Sonar Posted on August 31, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    THE SUN IS A DEADLY LAZZERR

    Reply
  77. Claudio Rigamonti Posted on August 31, 2019 at 8:41 pm

    the sound of the beginning of this video is awesome. can anybody link the original song?

    Reply
  78. K Posted on August 31, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Let me guess, Vox thinks Conservatives or Trump supporters cause this hahahaha. Vox is less accurate than The Onion.

    Reply
  79. Randy Smith Posted on August 31, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Sure looked like lint from the fiber cloth that you glued to the top of the container to me. No vertical drop lines

    Reply
  80. Steven Brydle Posted on August 31, 2019 at 10:07 pm

    Try using a microphone next time

    Reply
  81. Ryan Posted on September 1, 2019 at 12:58 am

    I got a theory – It’s rays sent from aliens

    Reply
  82. steward joey Posted on September 1, 2019 at 1:41 am

    I heard every morning around 4 to 5 am cosmic rays reach earth. And people are in real deep sleep will be able to gain it's energy and it will keep you energetic through out the whole day time.

    Reply
  83. Phat As Phoebe Posted on September 1, 2019 at 2:05 am

    Well, are they “messengers” or actual messages? Could it be possible to extract any data (if any) from them?

    Reply
  84. Razor Posted on September 1, 2019 at 2:09 am

    Some times I like Vox
    This is one of those times

    Reply
  85. Number Eight or Nine? Posted on September 1, 2019 at 2:31 am

    aliens sending cosmic rays humans sending radio waves…

    Reply
  86. George Harakas Posted on September 1, 2019 at 2:38 am

    Did they just refer to a Rey from a galaxy far far away?

    Reply
  87. Stubborn Posted on September 1, 2019 at 3:13 am

    Why are we making fun of America for having so many shootings but our star have been doing this for billions of years. Smh

    Reply
  88. Korrupted Tomato Posted on September 1, 2019 at 3:52 am

    did he just teach us how to make localized rain

    Reply
  89. Brydie Cussan Posted on September 1, 2019 at 4:18 am

    Earth hits different now

    Reply
  90. Girish Mahajan Posted on September 1, 2019 at 4:22 am

    He knows what this planet species with brain did to the planet. One day it will all start. First dinosaur and then..

    Reply
  91. crazy boyzzz Posted on September 1, 2019 at 5:34 am

    🙋Hi sir, i am a subscriber of u r channel .Plz explain and make one video BALOCHISTAN history , citizens missing,development and border problems….👍

    Reply
  92. Adt_10 Terrarian Posted on September 1, 2019 at 9:06 am

    What if the cosmic rays come from the supermassive blackhole in the middle of the Milky Way? (Sagittarus A)

    Reply
  93. Ilva Sushi Posted on September 1, 2019 at 10:33 am

    As a physicist, I am sceptical about some of the descriptions in this video… about to read your article though!

    Reply
  94. SergioEduP Posted on September 1, 2019 at 10:33 am

    If it was something made by an outer space life form it probably wouldn't be targeted at us specifically but could be something like our radio waves, that we just "shoot"" outwards and a lot of it might get out to space.

    Reply
  95. Mmm K Posted on September 1, 2019 at 10:54 am

    One of my favorite videos by Vox, thanks!

    Reply
  96. Smith Anderso Posted on September 1, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    Looked like string from string theory..

    Reply
  97. anirial812 Posted on September 1, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    God exist.. Islam is the truth

    Reply
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