Fascinated with Space

Copyright: © Peter Winandy

On July 2, 85 astronauts from the international and independent  “Association of Space Explorers,” ASE for short, visited RWTH Aachen. The program included a Technical Session with about 350 participating RWTH members and an open event at the Aachen Katschhof, where the astronauts reported on their experiences in space in front of an audience of more than 1000 enthusiastic pupils and students.


From the University into Space

RWTH Aachen is actively involved in research activities in space: several Aachen physics departments have contributed to the development of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, AMS for short, which is mounted on the International Space Station ISS in order to detect cosmic rays in space. On its final mission in May 2011, space shuttle Endeavour delivered the AMS to the ISS.

For over 10 years, more than 500 scientists from 16 countries have contributed to the development of the state-of-the-art cosmic ray detector. RWTH Professor Stefan Schael from has coordinated Germany's contributions to the AMS. Also, his group has participated in the development and assembly of several AMS components.

The heart of the spectrometer is a multiple-plane silicon tracker surrounded by a permanent magnet, which is toroidal in shape. Due to the magnetic field, charged particles passing through the detector will follow circular paths. From the curvature, the researchers can determine the particles' energy and the sign of their charge. On the top of the AMS, which works in multiple stages, is the so-called transition radiation detector. The device with its 300 straw tube modules makes it possible to differentiate between light and heavy particles.

According to the participating scientists, the experiment will have a duration of about 15 to 20 years. The involved physicists have already evaluated the first results of the experiments: the conspicuously high number of positrons and thus of antimatter particles can be seen as a tentative hint of the existence of dark matter in the universe.