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How to Turn Your Phone Into A Cosmic Ray Detector (for real?)


Artist’s impression of cosmic rays striking Earth (Simon Swordy/University of Chicago, NASA)

Quick, do you have an Android phone in your pocket? A few small changes and you could help physicists probe more of the curious nature of cosmic rays, high-energy particles that emanate from outside our solar system.

Just download an app, cover up your phone’s camera with duct tape, then place it somewhere (running idle) with the screen facing up. If a particle “event” happens, the information will be logged in a central database.

The project (called Distributed Electronic Cosmic-ray Observatory or DECO) aims to record secondary particles called muons that occur when cosmic rays hit the Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists believe cosmic rays are created in black holes and supernovas, but more studies are needed.

Screenshot of an Android app developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that aims to capture cosmic rays. Credit: Justin Vandenbroucke

Researchers at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC), led by Justin Vandenbroucke, note that there are things about cosmic rays that confuse physicists. Their paths in space change as they go across magnetic fields, and it makes searching for other astronomy events difficult. That’s where they hope the phone study will be useful.

“Smartphone cameras use silicon chips that work through what is called the photoelectric effect, in which particles of light, or photons, hit a silicon surface and release an electric charge,” the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote in a press release.

“The same is true for muons. When a muon strikes the semiconductor that underpins a smartphone camera, it liberates an electric charge and creates a signature in pixels that can be logged, stored and analyzed.”

For more details on how to run and use the app, consult this page (it’s the second item).

Source: Universe Today

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Check the WIPAC

Science is always fun… even when it is hard to understand 😀

6 comments on “How to Turn Your Phone Into A Cosmic Ray Detector (for real?)

  1. Atul Gupta
    October 15, 2014

    Hello MK Toma,

    Have you tried running the app? Frankly, I can’t make out what the app is displaying, I guess the data is more useful to the researchers studying the results from it rather than the consumer. Let’s see what updates they do to make it more user friendly (useful).


    Liked by 1 person

    • mktlibrary
      October 15, 2014

      Hello Atul.

      Good to see you here again.
      As far as I understand, this is a network of mobile phones that act as a large detector to observe these elusive particles. The consumers of the App are the scientists operating the detector. Us, we are just the mean to detect and collect data to help these guys out.We do not make much sense or use of these data.

      However, it would be great if they improve the App to include educational tools and how we are helping them. Also maybe they can include some sort of simulation for the experiment so we can have fun and learn more…

      MK Toma


      • Atul Gupta
        October 15, 2014


        Liked by 1 person

      • mktlibrary
        October 15, 2014

        I think…. not sure about it but… I think the reason the app is the way it is because that is the required feature for the detector. (blocking light from the camera, face the screen up, phone is on stand by…). so I think the other functions of the phone might somehow effect the data they are collecting.

        Just a thought…


      • Atul Gupta
        October 15, 2014

        And I couldn’t find the app on Google Play, that means it’s still an untrusted app, as it is a direct download only. Well, at least somebody is working on it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mktlibrary
        October 15, 2014

        Sure…. we just have to wait and see what comes out of these guys.. I am hoping for the best..


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