I’m not sure how I so totally missed this mission. Today I was flipping through the pre-print server and came across a paper titled: Launch of the Space experiment PAMELA. This is a “we launched and are functioning” paper about a 2006 mission to measure cosmic rays. (mission homepage) My first thought was, wow, this explains so much… My second thought was, neat future science.
This primarily Italian and Russian collaboration in space exploration was the first satellite designed specifically to look for cosmic rays, including the anti-particles positrons and antiprotons. The cosmic rays they are studying have both local and non-local origins – The Sun produces protons, electrons, positrons, and neutrons while Jupiter flings the positron., Jupiter flings electrons our direction.
Now, a little over a year after launch, they are able to show their equipment is working, and they are detecting particles successfully. Specifically, they are mapping the trapped particles in the Van Allen Radiation Belts, and can see an increase in particle rates as they go through the geomagnetic poles.All is as it should be, and in a couple years we should have a good ideas of what types of particles and antiparticles are zipping around in the nearby parts of the solar system.