Cosmic ray topography

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© 2017 American Association of Physics Teachers. Cosmic ray muons are produced when high energy particles interact with nuclei in Earth's atmosphere. Muons make up the majority of charged particles that reach sea level and are the only particles (apart from neutrinos) that can penetrate to significant depths underground. The muon flux underground decreases approximately exponentially as a function of depth. We use a cosmic ray detector developed by the QuarkNet Program at Fermi National Laboratory to map the topography of the mountain above an abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel by analyzing muon flux at different rock overburdens. Cosmic ray muons have been used in this capacity before to search for hidden chambers in pyramids and for mapping volcanoes. This study provides a unique field experience to learn about particle physics and particle detectors, which could be of interest to students and teachers in physics.

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