How did cosmic rays help discover a tunnel in the Great Pyramid of Egypt?

Humans have been trying to solve the mysteries of the Giza pyramids for thousands of years. Built around 4,500 years ago, they have temples and halls that were once the remains of Egypt’s first pharaohs.

But modern technology has shown that the pyramids also have hidden holes. In 2016 and 2017, a group of researchers in the ScanPyramids project identified several holes in the pyramids, and last month, Egyptian officials released new details about the holes: the north face corridor above the entrance to the Khufu (Great Pyramid), the largest The Giza plateau pyramid is located.

With the help of a technology called muon radiation, which uses cosmic ray particles to explore objects and make three-dimensional models of them, scientists have confirmed that the corridor of the north face is nine meters long and about two meters wide.

Revealing the interior of the Egyptian pyramids with muon radiation
A man rides a donkey in the desert near the Great Pyramids of Giza. Modern technology has enabled scientists to see inside these Egyptian wonders and reveal their hidden cavities.

Archaeologists doubt that these empty spaces have any ritual significance. In 2017, archaeologist Kate Spence told National Geographic and archaeologist Mark Lehner told the New York Times that according to the findings of the researchers, the Egyptians probably built these cracks in the pyramids to reduce the pressure on the structures. be safe

However, these holes surprise us like the pyramids themselves. How do we know they exist and how do scientists measure them? Here we introduce the science behind this technology.

The science of muon radiation

Thanks to a clever imaging technique called muon imaging, which was first tested more than 50 years ago in the Pyramids of Giza, scientists got a better look inside them.

Muon x-rays rely on muon; A subatomic particle that is very similar to an electron, except that it is 200 times heavier and lasts only a few millionths of a second. Despite their extremely short lifetimes, muons are constantly raining down on us. Massive cosmic objects in the Milky Way and elsewhere are constantly producing energetic particles that sometimes crash into Earth. When these particles—cosmic rays—hit Earth’s upper atmosphere, a spray of particles is created, including muons.

The natural rain of muons on the earth is not dangerous. If you are reading this article on your smartphone, by the end of this sentence, 10 minions have crossed your screen without any danger. Muons have just the right properties to help scientists see inside structures; From pyramids and monasteries to volcanoes. They are strong enough to pass through solid objects and are easy to detect with special emulsion films and detectors.

Revealing the interior of the Egyptian pyramids with muon radiation
This image shows how muon X-rays reveal the inner structure of the pyramid.

The important point is that muons pass through empty space more easily than solid objects. So by setting a number of muon detectors in different positions and angles inside a structure, scientists can map the filled and empty spaces inside them.

That’s exactly what scientists did at the Egyptian pyramids in a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications. Two different research teams—one from Nagoya University in Japan and the other from France’s Commission on Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy—placed arrays of muon detectors in two known passageways in the pyramid: the lower corridor and the passage dug into the pyramid in the 9th century AD. and now it is used as an entrance for tourists. These detectors were placed facing the corridor of the north face, which was discovered earlier.

After months of data collection since 2019, researchers have combined different muon measurements to determine the size and position of the North Face void. In total, the hole is about nine meters long, two meters high and two meters wide.

But while researchers now know the exact dimensions of the corridor, its exact purpose in the Great Pyramid remains a mystery to some; For others, it’s a confirmation of the ancient Egyptians’ proven engineering prowess.

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