Stormy X-Rays

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Stormy X-Rays

Muons are handy things. The particles act as cosmic X-ray machines. They’ve allowed scientists to peer into volcanoes, pyramids, and other structures. They’ve also provided views of ocean tides and tsunamis. And in the past few years, scientists have used them to look into typhoons in Japan. The technique could help produce better forecasts for storms around the globe.

Muons are produced when cosmic rays — particles from beyond the galaxy — slam into atoms and molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The collisions generate “showers” of many other particles.

The muons almost never interact with other matter. But the rare interactions they do produce can help scientists map the material they’ve passed through — from ocean water to solid granite.

Researchers set up detectors below typhoons that passed over Japan in 2016, ’19, and ’21. That revealed the three-dimensional structure of the storms. The scientists mapped warm, low-pressure air in the center of the storms, surrounded by colder, high-pressure air.

The observations were provided in real-time, offering views that weren’t available any other way. When combined with other observations, they provided some of the most complete pictures to date of what was going on inside big storms. So these cosmic X-ray machines could help scientists better understand all storms — and perhaps produce better forecasts of what they’ll do.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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