Oh-My-God particle

Coordinates: Sky map 5h 40m 48s, +48° 0′ 0″
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The Oh-My-God particle was an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray detected on 15 October 1991 by the Fly's Eye camera in Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, United States.[1][2][3] As of 2023 it is the highest-energy cosmic ray ever observed.[4] Its energy was estimated as (3.2±0.9)×1020 eV (320 million TeV). The particle's energy was unexpected and called into question theories of that era about the origin and propagation of cosmic rays.


It is not known what kind of particle it was, but most cosmic rays are protons. If is the rest mass of the particle and is its kinetic energy (energy above the rest-mass energy), then its speed was times the speed of light. Assuming it was a proton, for which is 938 MeV, this means it was traveling at 0.9999999999999999999999951 times the speed of light, its Lorentz factor was 3.2×1011 and its rapidity was 27.1. At this speed, if a photon were traveling alongside the particle, it would take over 215,000 years for the photon to gain a 1 cm lead, as seen from the Earth's reference frame. Due to special relativity, the relativistic time dilation experienced by a proton traveling at this speed would be extreme. If the proton originated from a distance of 1.5 billion light years, it would take approximately 1.71 days from the reference frame of the proton to travel that distance. See chart at https://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/OhMyGodParticle/ .

Collision energy[edit]

The energy of this particle was some 40 million times that of the highest-energy protons that have been produced in any terrestrial particle accelerator. However, only a small fraction of this energy was available for its interaction with a nucleus in the earth's atmosphere, with most of the energy remaining in the form of kinetic energy of the center of mass of the products of the interaction. If is the mass of the "target" nucleus, the energy available for such a collision is[5]

which for large is approximately

For the Oh-My-God particle hitting a nitrogen nucleus, this gives 2900 TeV, which is roughly 200 times higher than the highest collision energy of the Large Hadron Collider, in which two high-energy particles going opposite directions collide.[6][7] In the center-of-mass frame of reference (which moved at almost the speed of light in our frame of reference), the products of the collision would therefore have had around 2900 TeV of energy, enough to transform the nucleus into many particles, moving apart at almost the speed of light even in this center-of-mass frame of reference. As with other cosmic rays, this generated a cascade of relativistic particles as the particles interacted with other nuclei.


The Oh-My-God particle's energy was estimated as (3.2±0.9)×1020 eV, or 51±14 J. Although this amount is phenomenally large – far outstripping the highest energy that human technology can generate in a particle – it is still far below the level of the Planck scale, where exotic physics is expected.

Comparison to a photon[edit]

The Oh-My-God particle had 1020 (100 quintillion) times the photon energy of visible light, equivalent to a 142-gram (5 oz) baseball travelling at about 28 m/s (100 km/h; 63 mph). Its energy was 20 million times greater than the highest photon energy measured in electromagnetic radiation emitted by an extragalactic object, the blazar Markarian 501.[8][needs update]

High energy, but far below the Planck scale[edit]

While the particle's energy was higher than anything achieved in terrestrial accelerators, it was still about 40 million times lower than the Planck energy. Particles of that energy would be required in order to expose effects on the Planck scale. A proton with that much energy would travel 1.665×1015 times closer to the speed of light than the Oh-My-God particle did. As viewed from Earth and observed in Earth's reference frame, it would take about 3.579×1020 years (2.59×1010 times the current age of the universe) for a photon to overtake a Planck energy proton with a 1 cm lead.[citation needed]

Later similar events[edit]

Since the first observation, hundreds of similar events (energy 5.7×1019 eV or greater) have been recorded, confirming the phenomenon.[9][10] These ultra-high-energy cosmic ray particles are very rare; the energy of most cosmic ray particles is between 107 eV and 1010 eV.

More recent studies using the Telescope Array Project have suggested a source of the particles within a 20 degree radius "warm spot" in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major.[3][10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bird, D.J.; Corbato, S.C.; Dai, H.Y.; Elbert, J.W.; Green, K.D.; Huang, M.A.; Kieda, D.B.; Ko, S.; Larsen, C.G.; Loh, E.C.; Luo, M.Z.; Salamon, M.H.; Smith, J.D.; Sokolsky, P.; Sommers, P.; Tang, J.K.K.; Thomas, S.B. (March 1995). "Detection of a cosmic ray with measured energy well beyond the expected spectral cutoff due to cosmic microwave radiation". The Astrophysical Journal. 441: 144. arXiv:astro-ph/9410067. Bibcode:1995ApJ...441..144B. doi:10.1086/175344. S2CID 119092012.
  2. ^ "The Fly's Eye (1981-1993) – The highest energy particle ever recorded". cosmic-ray.org.
  3. ^ a b Wolchover, Natalie (14 May 2015). "The particle that broke a cosmic speed limit". Quanta Magazine. ISSN 2640-2661.
  4. ^ Jonathan O’Callaghan (May 30, 2023). "We are finally closing in on the cosmic origins of the "OMG particle"". New Scientist.
  5. ^ Lebedev, V.; Shiltsev, V. (May 29, 2014). Accelerator Physics at the Tevatron Collider. Springer. p. 1. ISBN 9781493908851. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  6. ^ Jowett, John (November 2015). "Lead-ion collisions: The LHC achieves a new energy record". CERN Bulletin.
  7. ^ Nerlich, Steve (June 13, 2011). "Oh-My-God particles". Universe Today – via phys.org.
  8. ^ Aharonian, F.; et al. (The HEGRA Collaboration) (1999). "The time averaged TeV energy spectrum of Mkn 501 of the extraordinary 1997 outburst as measured with the stereoscopic Cherenkov telescope system of HEGRA" (PDF). Astronomy & Astrophysics. 349: 11–28. arXiv:astro-ph/9903386v2. Bibcode:1999A&A...349...11A. S2CID 15448541.
  9. ^ Abdul Halim, A.; Abreu, P.; Aglietta, M.; Allekotte, I.; Allison, P.; Almeida Cheminant, K.; Almela, A.; Alvarez-Muñiz, J.; Ammerman Yebra, J.; Anastasi, G. A.; Anchordoqui, L.; Andrada, B.; Andringa, S.; Aramo, C.; Araújo Ferreira, P. R. (February 1, 2023). "A Catalog of the Highest-energy Cosmic Rays Recorded during Phase I of Operation of the Pierre Auger Observatory". The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. 264 (2): 50. Bibcode:2023ApJS..264...50A. doi:10.3847/1538-4365/aca537. ISSN 0067-0049. S2CID 254070054.
  10. ^ a b Abbasi, R. U.; Abe, M.; Abu-Zayyad, T.; Allen, M.; Anderson, R.; et al. (July 14, 2014). "Indications of intermediate-scale anisotropy of cosmic rays with energy greater than 57 EeV in the northern sky, measured with the surface detector of the Telescope Array Experiment". The Astrophysical Journal. 790 (2): L21. arXiv:1404.5890. Bibcode:2014ApJ...790L..21A. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/790/2/L21. eISSN 1538-4357. ISSN 0004-637X. S2CID 118481211.
  11. ^ Cho, Adrian (8 July 2014). "Physicists spot potential source of 'Oh-My-God' particles". Science. doi:10.1126/article.22871 (inactive 1 August 2023). eISSN 1095-9203. ISSN 0036-8075.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of August 2023 (link)