Extensive air showers and ultra high-energy cosmic rays: a historical review
Department of Physics, University Wuppertal,
2 School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leeds, UK
Received in final form: 7 May 2012
Published online: 10 July 2012
The discovery of extensive air showers by Rossi, Schmeiser, Bothe, Kohlhörster and Auger at the end of the 1930s, facilitated by the coincidence technique of Bothe and Rossi, led to fundamental contributions in the field of cosmic ray physics and laid the foundation for high-energy particle physics. Soon after World War II a cosmic ray group at MIT in the USA pioneered detailed investigations of air shower phenomena and their experimental skill laid the foundation for many of the methods and much of the instrumentation used today. Soon interests focussed on the highest energies requiring much larger detectors to be operated. The first detection of air fluorescence light by Japanese and US groups in the early 1970s marked an important experimental breakthrough towards this end as it allowed huge volumes of atmosphere to be monitored by optical telescopes. Radio observations of air showers, pioneered in the 1960s, are presently experiencing a renaissance and may revolutionise the field again. In the last 7 decades the research has seen many ups but also a few downs. However, the example of the Cygnus X-3 story demonstrated that even non-confirmable observations can have a huge impact by boosting new instrumentation to make discoveries and shape an entire scientific community.
© EDP Sciences, Springer-Verlag 2012