Observing "weather" (stratospheric temp.) with cosmic rays

An article in New Scientist reports on an analysis of cosmic ray muon data from the MINOS underground detector, which correlates with "sudden" (24-hour timescale) temperature changes in the stratosphere.

The original article in Geophysical Research Letters gives you a good flavor for how this kind of analysis is actually done, and written up for publication.

The figure below (Figure 3 of the article) shows the beautiful correlation between the temperature (5-day running average in blue) as measured by sounding balloons, and the muon rate in MINOS (also 5-day running average, red band with uncertainties). The alignment of the two curves is obviously not known a priori. The exact numerical calibration between muon counts (red, right scale) and temperature (blue, left scale) is a fitted output of the analysis, not an input.

To me, it's just kind of neat that particle physics can relate so sharply to some "real world" large-scale properties.

Picture of Observing "weather" (stratospheric temp.) with cosmic rays
Kiteman8 years ago
Rather an expensive thermometer... Presumably, now that this correlation has been found, stratospheric temperatures can be read directly from a suitably-calibrated scale?
kelseymh (author)  Kiteman8 years ago
According to commentary quoted in the NS article, there's not much point to that. There is a tremenous international network of sounding balloons, satellites, and other devices which directly monitor temperatures in the atmosphere at many altitudes, with sub-degree precision. I think what this work is more likely to become is a better correction to the particle physics studies, in particular analyses of atmopheric neutrino oscillations and neutrino mass measurements. An uncertainty there is knowledge of and variations in, the muon flux. With a calibration like this, the externally measured and reported temperature can be used to normalize the muon flux values.