Tuesday 21 November 2017

Stephen Kinsella: All we need is a nutter in a balloon to give perspective

Sometimes, all you need is a nutter in a balloon to change your perspective. And perspective is everything.

In the early 1900s, physicists couldn't understand where the background radiation came from, which messed up their experiments. Two candidates for the source of the radiation were proposed. One in the surface layers of the earth due to radium and thorium, the other in the atmosphere due to what we would today call radon.

In April 1912, Dr Victor Hess, an Austrian experimental physicist and keen balloonist, took his instruments up with him in his balloon. He made it to 4,800 feet and his precision electroscopes picked up the fact that the radiation levels were three times higher than on the ground. The radiation was coming from space. Hess had discovered cosmic rays, and won the Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery in 1936.

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