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A spotlight on light guides: where is the AMS-02 now?

On 16th May 2011, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer- otherwise known as the AMS-02 – a state-of-the-art particle physics detector, was launched into space and set off on its mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Goodfellow supported the mission by supplying CIEMAT, the Spanish-government-owned research organisation that collaborated on construction, with light guides. The AMS-02 is an international collaboration project, involving around 200 people from 44 institutions and 16 countries.

What is a light guide?

In short, light guides are used to distribute light from the source to a particular area which requires illumination, and they have the capability to transmit light signals through internal reflections. They are made from a transparent material, such as glass or plastic, and thin filaments. Goodfellow made their light guides from moulded and machined PMMA (Polymethyl-Methacrylate Acrylic), since a moulding grade of PMMA with UV transmission characteristics was necessary due to the demanding nature of the application.

The mission

To gain a better understanding of new phenomena in the cosmos, the AMS-02 was mounted on the main truss of the ISS so that it could count cosmic rays. The ISS was chosen because the cosmic rays that strike the space station have yet to go through the Earth’s atmosphere. To this day, it collects data, sending it back to Earth where it is monitored around the clock. Studies of light cosmic ray antimatter species, such as positrons, antiprotons and antideuterons found in cosmic ray collisions, are vital for understanding the cosmos.

The AMS-02 is designed to use the unique environment of outer space to learn about the universe and delve further into understanding its origin. It searches for antimatter and dark matter, all whilst performing precision measurements of cosmic ray flux.

Where is it now?

So far, the AMS-02 has been on the International Space Station for more than 3,500 days and has measured over 170 billion cosmic rays! In 2020, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) carried out a series of four spacewalks in order to repair the AMS-02. Completed by NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, the repairs were successful and the AMS-02 was restored to good health. The AMS-02 was never designed to be serviceable once installed outside of the ISS, so the job required some unique thinking to bring it back to full operational capacity.

The AMS-02 uncovered an exciting breakthrough in June of 2020, when new properties of the cosmic rays Silicon, Magnesium and Neon were found. Prior research had shown most cosmic rays to be protons and Helium ions, so this was new information for the team. As they can now study cosmic rays with great precision thanks to the advanced technology of the AMS-02, physicists hope to learn more about the nature of objects and forces that brought the rays and even how they were created. The team have discovered subtle, previously unknown differences in the spectra of light and heavy ions, which leaves the door open for plenty more discoveries.

For more information on Goodfellow’s contribution to the AMS-02 application and the light guide product, please contact the team.

 

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