COLLEGE STATION —
When the Space Shuttle Endeavour takes flight Friday (April 29) for its final mission, a $1.5 billion particle physics experiment with Texas A&M University ties will be along for the ride.
As part of Endeavour’s swan song, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) — a galactic endeavor in its own right involving roughly 500 physicists from 16 countries and nearly 60 institutions worldwide — will be delivered to the International Space Station to begin a decade-long mission to record and measure data from high-energy cosmic rays in an international effort to understand the formation of the universe and explain the mysterious forces known as dark matter and antimatter.
Texas A&M physicist Dr. Peter M. McIntyre is one of the hundreds of scientists who collaborated on AMS along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Nobel Prize-winning particle physicist and close friend Dr. Samuel Ting, who first proposed the experiment in 1995 shortly after the cancellation of Texas’ Superconducting Super Collider and serves as its principal investigator. Both McIntyre and Ting will be on hand to witness the historic launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., along with United States President Barack Obama and Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, wife of STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly.
This will be the 134th shuttle mission overall and the 25th for NASA’s youngest shuttle, which was commissioned in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush — whose presidential library and museum is located on the Texas A&M campus — as the replacement for the lost Challenger.
“AMS will be the Hubble Telescope for charged particles in the universe,” McIntyre says. “It is thought that these cosmic rays were produced in the explosions of the cores of distant galaxies. They are the most energetic particles in our universe.”
The AMS experiment has been developed during the past 15 years to measure the properties of these cosmic rays far better than previously possible. McIntyre credits this precision to the fact that AMS is equipped with a spectrometer similar in capability to the ones operating at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as the eventual placement of that spectrometer, courtesy of Endeavour, in orbit well beyond the shielding effects of Earth’s atmosphere.
McIntyre notes that Texas A&M joined the AMS collaboration late in the construction of the experiment in order to help commission the superconducting magnet for the AMS spectrometer. The magnet and its cryogenics were successfully integrated with the experiment before a decision was made last year to re-configure the experiment with a permanent magnet to maximize its shelf-life and scientific benefit.
“NASA decided to prolong the life of the International Space Station by another decade, and the superconducting magnet would have only been capable of maintaining its operation for the originally planned three years,” he explains. “With the permanent magnet in its spectrometer, AMS will be able to operate through the entire lifetime of the Space Station, ensuring valuable data for the role of charged particles in the evolution and fate of our universe for the same span.”
McIntyre notes that AMS has three main objectives. First, it will measure the energy spectrum and identify each kind of particle present in the highest energy of the cosmic rays — information that will help in understanding the mechanism by which a galaxy can act as an immense particle accelerator. Second, it will provide a sensitive measurement of the particles of antimatter among the cosmic rays, and thereby put to the test one of the most puzzling aspects of cosmology: How is it that our universe is made of matter but little or no antimatter?
“We have compelling evidence that the universe began with a Big Bang 13 billion years ago,” McIntyre says. “The universe has been expanding ever since, and cooling from its immensely hot beginnings. The matter of our world emerged from that hot beginning through pair production of matter and antimatter from pure energy. Then where is the antimatter today? AMS will be able to detect it.”
Finally, McIntyre points to recent evidence from present-day orbiting experiments suggesting that there may be a component of such antimatter that was produced in or near our Milky Way galaxy. If that result were validated by more sensitive measurements using AMS, he says it would open the possibility that the mysterious particles of dark matter might be annihilating today in dark matter haloes of our galaxy.
McIntyre, who has held the Mitchell-Heep Chair in Experimental High-Energy Physics since 2004, joined the Texas A&M faculty in 1980 and leads programs of research in high-energy physics, accelerator physics and superconductor technology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1973. He performed experiments with colliding beams at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, until 1975, then joined Harvard University and participated in neutrino scattering experiments at Fermilab. In 1976 he was the first to propose making colliding beams of protons and antiprotons using the large synchrotrons at Fermilab and at CERN. He developed several techniques for cooling intense beams of antiprotons for that purpose. McIntyre is a key collaborator in CERN’s LHC as well as the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF), which are searching for the top quark and seeking evidence of the Higgs field and supersymmetry. He was named a Sloan Fellow in 1980-82 and a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2001.
For more information on AMS, visit here.
Find more information about McIntyre and his research.
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Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Peter M. McIntyre, (979) 255-5531 or email@example.com
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