Skip to comments.Cosmic rays may reveal pre-Aztec tomb secrets
Posted on 02/21/2005 6:26:33 PM PST by wagglebee
Scientists are using cosmic ray detectors to uncover the secrets of the earliest large metropolis of the Americas.
Archaeologists and nuclear physicists are working together to measure the passage of muons, subatomic particles from deep space, through the 2,000-year-old Pyramid of the Sun to discover whether it was a mausoleum or a ceremonial monument.
They believe the experiment will lead them to burial chambers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference was told. Many experts believe that the pyramid, the third largest in the world, holds the mysteries of the pre-Aztec Teotihuacan civilisation.
Arturo Menchaca-Rocha, the director of the physics institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is leading a team using muon detectors in a tunnel 26ft below the base of the 215ft-tall pyramid.
Dr Menchaca-Rocha said: "In spite of its fame, little is known about this, one of the largest pyramids in the Americas, or even about the people who built it 2,000 years ago. Excavations have shown no identifiable internal structures of the kind uncovered in the nearby Pyramid of the Moon, which are also a relatively common feature in other pre-hispanic monuments in Mesoamerica.
"It has been a long-standing archaeological question as to whether the pyramid might have been used as a burial place.
"It is the perfect place for such as experiment. If we detect more particles than expected coming from one part of the building, it means that there must be a hole in that direction."
The ancient city of Teotihuacan, whose first inhabitants settled in the area as far back as 800BC, was the first large metropolis in the Mesoamerica.
It became the capital of a complex civilisation, which at its peak was made of up of an estimated 100,000 people, that lasted until it was abandoned around the seventh century for unknown reasons. Numerous excavations have failed to shed light on who founded and governed the city.
When the Aztecs found it empty, they decided the whole area was inhabited by supernatural beings. Teotihuacan means "place of the gods" in Nahuatl, the Aztec's native tongue.
Archaeologists have been unable to uncover the original name of the city. Nor do they know who founded the civilisation, how it was government and why the city was abandoned.
The stepped Pyramid of the Sun, 740ft on each side and 215ft high, was built in the second century AD. In spite of its importance, excavations have failed to answer the pyramid's central mystery - was it a mausoleum or a ceremonial monument. Archaelogists believe the keys to shedding light on the origins and political leadership of Teotihuacan civilisation could lie in burial chambers deep inside the giant pyramid.
The interaction of cosmic rays with the atmosphere creates a continuous shower of muons - tiny, charged particles that travel dozens of miles in the millionth of a second that they exist.
They strike the Earth's surface at a rate of about 10,000 per square metre per minute and pass through most materials almost unhindered.
A given amount of a known material will absorb a precise proportion of muons that can be calculated and will deflect them in a particular pattern.
A muon detector, which uses thin wires to pick up electrical charges from the tiny particles, has been put in a tunnel 26ft beneath the Pyramid of the Sun. By this summer six will be in operation. The experiment will take a year.
Dr Menchaca-Rocha calculates that chambers should be present if the detector counts fewer less than 100 particles every second.
Kanetada Nagamine, of the KEK Muon Science Laboratory in Japan, told delegates at the conference about his research into using muon radiography to predict volcanic eruptions.
American researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico described how they were working on using the technique to detect smuggled nuclear materials in vehicles and cargo containers.
Might be a fun science experiment in the Great Pyramid, too.
Art bell where are you????!! Hahaha
" the earliest large metropolis".
i'll bet they landed a man or woman on the moon
circa 1000 a.d. (/s)
Every once in awhile I read a post where I understand nothing.
Did someone say 'cosmic rays'?
If you want on the list, FReepmail me. This IS a high-volume PING list...
How many among those pyramids who'd had their still beating hearts torn out?
Oldest "civilization". What a load.
Hmmm. That would mean that they're travelling at least 129 times the speed of light.
As a matter of fact, that experiment has been done. The Nobel prizewinner Luis Alvarez developed this cosmic ray technique for the pyramids of Giza.
Alvarez would bristle whenever someone said that he failed to discover any hidden chambers in the Great Pyramid. In truth, he succeeded in proving that there were no hidden chambers in the Great Pyramid.
The muons have a half-life of 2.2 microseconds. At the speed of light this would give a range of only 660 m. However, at relativistic speeds, the lifetime of the muon, as we perceive it, is much longer. Given a minimal 2 GeV muon (rest mass = 0.1 GeV):
Think of it as being just like an x-ray of your body. X-rays shine right through you, for the most part, but the denser parts of you stop more of the x-rays. That's why images of your bones show up on the film: they're dense enough to stop most of the x-rays, while your bulging biceps and rippling pectoral muscles are not.
This method doesn't work on a pyramid, because it's too dense to let any of the x-rays through. Muons, however, can do the job, because they can travel through a whole lot of matter before they stop. The denser the matter, though, the more of the muons it will stop. If there's a hollow chamber hidden away somewhere in the structure, more muons will pass through that part of the structure than if it were just solid stone.
Furthermore, muons are constantly raining down on us from the sky, so you don't need to set up a beam like you do with an x-ray machine. If you just wait long enough, you can collect enough muons to make as detailed an exposure as you like.
Good grief! Am I the LAST person to hear about this??!! Thank you, Physicist. I'll go catch up on the subject at once! :)
BTW, I saw your full Bio the other day when you posted to that jerk. Congrats on your new endevors. And, say hello to the family for me.