Advisory Panel which could advise the federal agencies involved in particle astrophysics (NSF, DOE and NASA) on the relative scientific priorities and help them set up long term policies.

The emergence of a new scientific field

Particle detection techniques have been essential to the development of high energy astrophysics since the first cosmic ray investigations in the early years of this century. Their role has been greatly expanded during the past decade as a variety of large experiments have begun to address fundamental astrophysical questions.

Two of the most recent and important advances in astronomy have been made by the direct detection of neutrinos. Two independent experiments measured the solar neutrino flux using totally different techniques, and neutrinos from the supernova 1987A have been directly detected by experiments designed to observe proton decay. Moreover, observation of the electromagnetic spectrum from astrophysical objects has been extended above 1011 eV using ground based Cerenkov detectors. Evidence obtained with air shower arrays suggests that gamma radiation in excess of 1014 eV may also have been observed from astrophysical objects. Cosmic rays have been detected up to 1020 eV but their nature and origin at these energies remains a mystery, as does the means of their acceleration.

In parallel, progress in the understanding of particle physics has suggested that the missing matter in the universe may consist of as yet undiscovered elementary particles, which are relics of the very earliest phases of the formation of the universe. It also appears that quantum fluctuations and topological singularities generated in phase transitions occurring at very high temperature in the early universe could have played a fundamental role in the formation of large scale structure. In addition, it is now well understood how the properties of neutrinos could be responsible for the solar neutrino puzzle, and the powerful acceleration mechanisms evidenced by the highest energy cosmic rays may require new particle physics.

The discoveries and activities described above have been mostly carried out by an unconventional breed of "astronomers" whose backgrounds have been in particle or nuclear physics. The nature of the research ranges from solid experiments with well defined systematic goals to investigations which test speculative ideas or follow on experimental hints. Therefore, such a field is a vital and exciting one, with new ideas, new practitioners, and the certainty of scientific progress. It may well be that the cosmos is providing us with the first evidences for physics beyond the standard models of astrophysics and particle physics.

In this new field, which we may call particle astrophysics, we can distinguish four interrelated areas dealing respectively with cosmology and particle physics, stellar physics and particles, high energy gamma and neutrino astrophysics (> 1012 eV) and cosmic ray astrophysics.

We review first the essential scientific questions being tackled and the present experimental program, before turning to priorities and institutional questions.

Cosmology and Particle Physics

The physics of the early universe is intimately related to particle physics at the very highest energies and it is not possible to distinguish them in the quest for the answer to the fundamental questions of cosmology: What is the nature of the ubiquitous dark matter? What is the origin of the predominance of matter over antimatter? What is the explanation for the smoothness, flatness, and old age of the universe? What is the origin of the primeval inhomogeneities that triggered the formation of structure and eventually galaxies in the universe? Conversely, the cosmological observations provide essential constraints in the construction of unified theories of particle interactions and may be the only source of information on physics at the very highest energies (up to the Planck scale - 1019 GeV). Physics at these energies is difficult to probe in terrestrial laboratories and so, at the same time the early universe provides a natural laboratory in which physics at the most fundamental level can be studied.

Particle Physics and the Early Universe

The past decade has seen the consolidation of two standard models: the Su(3)xSU(2)xU(1) gauge theory of particle interactions and the Hot Big Bang model. The former provides a fundamental theory of the elementary particles and their interactions at distances down to 10-17 cm (energies up to 103 GeV), while the latter provides an accurate accounting of the history of the Universe from about 10-2 sec after the origin of the universe. Encouraged by these impressive successes, particle physicists and cosmologists have begun to extrapolate to earlier times and attempted to answer the fundamental questions outlined above. The origin of the matter-antimatter asymmetry seems

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement