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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Downright snappy

The fastest object ever recorded was likely a proton that struck the atmosphere over Utah in 1991 known as the “Oh-My-God particle.” It was traveling only 1.5 quadrillionths of a meter per second below the speed of light, or 0.9999999999999999999999951c. This is so near the speed of light that it would take a photon traveling with a particle about 220,000 years to gain a one-centimeter lead. It is estimated that the Oh-My-God particle carried about 50 joules of kinetic energy, 40 million times that of the highest energy proton ever produced in a man-made particle accelerator. That’s roughly equivalent to the energy of a baseball thrown at 100 kilometers per hour – packed into a single proton about 85 septillion times less massive. The source of these ultra-high-energy cosmic rays is a mystery, but they seem to emanate from the general direction of extragalactic super-massive black holes at the center of nearby galactic nuclei.

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