Our new project is DECO, the Distributed Electronic Cosmic-ray Observatory which was originally defined here: http://www.distobs.org)
There are almost 2 billion cell phones in the world1. Many, if not most, now come equipped with camera, GPS, embedded computer, and Wi-fi, making each one a powerful distributed sensing element. Unfortunately, most of this massive sensing and computing power currently goes to waste. But it doesn’t have to! We propose to harness the combined power of the world’s cell-phones to create the world’s largest cosmic ray telescope.
Cosmic rays are high energy particles that collide with the upper atmosphere and cause a “shower” of particles (electrons, muons, etc…) to rain down to the Earth’s surface. It is possible to detect these secondary particles using the CMOS or CCD sensor in the cell phone’s camera. The highest energy cosmic rays are 108 times more energetic than the highest energy particles created in particle accelerators such as the LHC. Interestingly, little is known about these highest energy cosmic rays, mostly because they are exceedingly rare events (we now detect only a handful each year). However, by creating a large, distributed cosmic ray telescope, we may be able to record enough of these events to finally understand the physics behind these highest energy particles.
Modeled after the distributed computing efforts of SETI@Home and Folding@Home, the Distributed Observatory will become the first distributed, data-taking, physics experiment. More importantly, the experiment will help answer one of the most pressing unsolved mysteries in modern physics: from where do the highest energy cosmic rays originate?
Some of the code for this already exists and runs on old G1’s. Our goal is to evolve the existing code to “sense” better on newer hardware and to provide the core collection infrastructure.