Is That a Smartphone in Your Pocket or a Cosmic Ray Detector? UCI Says It's Both

Physicists Daniel Whiteson of UC Irvine and Michael Mulhearn of UC Davis swear they are not–in the words of the late, great Frank Zappa–jiving us with their cosmik debris, claiming to have designed an app to turn the global network of smartphones into a planet-sized cosmic ray detector.


The bold claim about the device in your pocket–and yes, it is happy to see me–becoming part of the world's largest telescope is found in a paper posted today to the physics website arXiv. The goal is to collect data aimed at solving a long-standing puzzle in astrophysics: What is the source of cosmic rays, the ultra-high-energy particles from space that hit Earth.

“Whole square kilometers can be drenched in these particles for a few milliseconds,” observes Whiteson, associate professor of physics & astronomy, in a UCI statement. “The mystery is nobody knows where these crazy, high-energy particles are coming from or what's making them so energetic. But they can be captured by technology in smartphones' cameras.”

The Cosmic Rays Found in Smartphones app–or CRAYFIS–collects data when the phone is connected to a power source and has not been used for several minutes so not to interfere with normal phone usage or drain battery levels. Anyone with an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet can participate in the detector network, and if data from your phone is used in a scientific paper, you will be offered authorship, according to UCI.

A side benefit is the same data can be used to calculate local levels of radiation from radon or other sources and function as an alarm system, says UCI, explaining the network of phones could provide a real-time radiation weather map, following the movement of plumes, for instance.

But while the app is ready, researchers are now locating servers able to handle myriad users.

As for Mr. Zappa …

Email: mc****@oc******.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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