New app launched to let users phone home cosmic ray data

14 Oct 2014

Cassiopeia A (Cas A for short), the youngest known supernova remnant in the Milky Way. Image: NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M.D. Stage et al.

A new app called Cosmic Rays Found in Smartphones (CRAYFIS) is looking to the public and its smartphones to use their devices to monitor the effects of cosmic rays battering our planet on a daily basis.

As part of a scientific paper released by scientists from the University of California, the requirements to measure cosmic rays en masse require a large and expansive array of measuring equipment which under current circumstances would be far outside the realms of possibility due to cost.

However, the team came to the realisation that through the technology that exists in current smartphones, they would be able to construct an array across the word, all with the help of one app.

The key component in smartphones that will be used to measure the cosmic rays will come from the phone’s camera which will be able to record video at 15-30 Hz which are then uploaded to a central server.

An illustration of how cosmic rays shower the Earth. Image via Simon Swordy (U. Chicago), NASA.

What the camera will pick up exactly consists of high energy photons and muons, the latter of which is an unstable sub-atomic particle that is found in cosmic rays.

For the user who has installed the app on to their device, little involvement is actually required as the app only functions when the phone is not in use and uploads the data when it finds the phone is using Wi-Fi.

The researchers expect that when fully operational, they will have 1m devices across the world providing them with information and as an extra incentive to encourage people to join the programme, a number will be selected as co-authors of the final paper after their research is completed.

While the app is currently in development, the team are actively looking for people to log their interest online prior to its launch.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic