Uncle Albert and the Cosmic Raymonds

Ich habe keine besondere Begabung, sondern bin nur leidenschaftlich neugierig. – Albert Einstein*

It’s Einstein year here. The 100th anniversary of his annus mirabilis, as I am sure you knew. The exhibition was really good, packed full of neatness and good ideas. There were lots of original documents and memorabilia and tons of scientific apparatus, ancient and modern. They did a good job of the explanations of many of his discoveries with lots of inventive presentation. It did necessarily involve lots of hand waving but gave plenty of the flavour of modern physics without frightening mathematics. There were quite a few buttons to press too.

The weird and wonderful looking bits of equipment from Faraday forwards were often rather perplexing in what they were for detecting and of course they were usually in glass cases. One working bit of apparatus that was particularly cool was a muon detection chamber.

It is a big cabinet with layers of flat electrodes in an inert gas and glass front.. there is a very high voltage between each pair of electrodes. When a suitably energetic cosmic ray enters the apparatus it ionises the gas along it’s path, causing sparks to fly. And so one may see were it went. Then in cases there will be a collision or decay causing a branching path.

It is fascinating to watch. As you stand there miniature bolts of lightening appear randomly but not infrequently. I took an illegal video of it in action and captured at least eight events in just thirty seconds. Attached are the edited highlights.

I stayed there watching it for a long time. Thinking about how far the highly energetic little raymonds have to travel. How intensely the sparks fly when they finally arrive. About how exotic they are and how complex their interactions. About how observing them reveals the nature of the universe and meaning of everything. And for me these tiny sparks had a far greater significance than that.

* I have no special talents, I am just intensely curious – Albert Einstein

I don’t think that is necessarily true of old Bert, but i’d like to hope it was true of me and thee.


Although I have found a way of generating sparks myself through strong pair interactions. I was intensely curious if there were any other Cosmic Raymonds to be detected here on Earth. I pointed the Google cyberspace telescope at the whole world and this is it what it found

DIY Sheep versus Doctor Who

Very exotic and dark matter, indeed. One might even say ‘intensely curious’.

About caspar

Caspar is just one monkey among billions. Battering his keyboard without expectations even of peanuts, let alone of aping the Immortal Bard. By day he is an infantologist at Birkbeck Babylab, by night he runs BabyLaughter.net
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