Chasing a Cosmic Engine

After 100 years, energetic space particles continue to pose a perplexing mystery

By Nadia Drake, 10:49 AM June 28, 2012

It was August 7, 1912, and Victor Hess was about to solve a mystery.

The Austrian physicist climbed aboard a highly combustible, hydrogen-filled balloon, carrying three electroscopes — small, brass-enclosed instruments with metal-coated wires that separate when hit by charged particles. At the time, such invisible ions in the atmosphere were already an aging conundrum, having first been detected in 1785.

His balloon lifted off from the Bohemian town of Aussig. It was just after 6 a.m. Six ...

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