The Great Pyramid of Giza has stubbornly held onto its secrets for thousands of years, yet scientists now hope to reveal the famous structure’s inner mysteries by enlisting the help of cosmic rays. Unfortunately, this ambitious scheme requires the use of a massive telescope that is too large to fit inside the pyramid and doesn’t even exist yet, yet the authors of an as yet un-peer reviewed study say they’ve got everything figured out.
Built by the pharaoh Khufu around 4,500 years ago, the Great Pyramid of Giza was explored extensively by archaeologists back in the 19th century. Stepping into the deepest entrails of the ancient wonder, excavators came across three inner cavities, known as the King’s Chamber – where a stone sarcophagus, possibly belonging to Khufu himself, is located – the Queen’s Chamber, and the Grand Gallery.
However, suspecting the old pharaoh of adding a few extra hidden compartments to his monument, scientists decided to scan the pyramid back in 2015. To do so, they placed a series of muon detectors inside the Queen’s chamber.
Muons are negatively charged elementary particles that are produced when cosmic rays collide with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s thought that every square meter of the planet is bombarded with around 10,000 muons per minute, and researchers have previously modelled the inner structure of volcanoes by measuring the flow of these particles through solid rock.
Because muons are obstructed by stone, the rate at which these particles hit the receptor was greatly influenced by any cavities above the Queen’s Chamber. This allowed the researchers to reveal the presence of two previously undetected voids within the Great Pyramid, one of which measured 30 meters (~100 feet) in length.
Whether these secret openings house the remains of an ancient pharaoh or simply played a functional role in the construction of the pyramid is not yet known, which is why the authors of the new preprint paper plan to examine them in greater detail. Doing so, however, will require the creation of a serious piece of apparatus.
“We plan to field a telescope system that has upwards of 100 times the sensitivity of the equipment that has recently been used at the Great Pyramid, will image muons from nearly all angles and will, for the first time, produce a true tomographic image of such a large structure,” they write.
“We are currently in the process of constructing the prototype telescope.”
When built, this equipment is likely to be too large to fit inside the pyramid, meaning it won’t be used to measure the flow of muons falling through the stone from above. Instead, the team plans to take measurements from multiple angles around the exterior of the structure.
Explaining how this can be achieved, they write that “for each muon that is detected by the telescope, the muon trajectory is calculated and projected back into the pyramid. These “back-projected” tracks are then used to fill 3D histograms representing voxels of the interior of the pyramid that the track went through.”
Speaking to Live Science, study author Alan Bross said that he and his colleagues are still seeking funding to manufacture their cosmic pharaoh scanner. "Once we have full funding, we believe it will take [about] two years to build the detectors," he added.
Then maybe Khufu will finally give up his secrets.