Cosmic Ray Observatory

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Southeastern Colorado is being chosen as the home of a new cosmic ray observatory, which will cover parts of at least three counties when fully built.

The Pierre Auger Collaboration unanimously selected the region today during a meeting held in Orsay, France.

Dr. John Harton and researcher Pablo Bauleo of Colorado State University spearheaded work to lure the 50-(m)-million-dollar project. Efforts included creation of a landowner database for a five-county region, and attempts to recruit landowners to take part.

The Auger project will help scientists learn more about the nature and origin of cosmic ray particles, the highest energy particles known to science.

The resolution recommends Utah as a backup site, and a third potential backup site in Idaho.

Officials say a key element of southeast Colorado's success was persuading hundreds of area landowners to allow scientists to put detector tanks on their land.

The four- to five-foot-tall tanks are 12 feet in diameter, and filled with ultrapure water.

The incoming particles interact with the water, emitting small light bursts that special electronic equipment can detect.

The observatory will be just one of two in the world, and is expected to provide an economic boost to southeast Colorado as a tourist attraction.

Harton says "serious construction" probably won't begin for a couple of years.