Cosmic Ray Muons and the Muon Lifetime

Experiment CRMUniversity of Florida — Department of PhysicsPHY4803L — Advanced Physics Laboratory

Objective

Four scintillation detectors and coincidencetechniques are used to determine the ﬂux andangular distribution of muons created in colli-sions of cosmic rays with atoms in the upperatmosphere. The muon lifetime is measuredusing rare events where, after passage of amuon into the scintillators is detected, its de-cay is also detected. Statistical techniques forlow counting rate experiments are employed.

Introduction

Cosmic rays are high-energy extra-terrestrialparticles. Cosmic ray muons are producedwhen cosmic rays collide with nuclei in theEarth’s upper atmosphere. Hydrogen nuclei(protons) make up most of the incident cos-mic ray ﬂux, but helium nuclei (alpha parti-cles) and other light nuclei also are present, asare high-energy gamma rays. Nuclei that enterthe atmosphere will eventually collide with anair molecule and initiate a hadronic shower—a cascade of particles (mostly pions) that mayundergo further nuclear reactions. Neutral pi-ons (

π

0

) immediately decay into two gammarays, which in turn generate electromagneticshowers (

e

+

,

e

−

,

γ

) that are not very penetrat-ing. Charged pions (

π

±

) that do not undergofurther nuclear reactions will decay in-ﬂightinto muons and neutrinos:

π

+

→

µ

+

+

ν

µ

,

π

−

→

µ

−

+

ν

µ

. Both the muon and its cor-responding neutrino are classiﬁed as leptons,particles that do not participate in nuclear re-actions. The neutrinos have an extremely tinycapture cross-section, and thus typically passthrough the Earth without any further inter-actions.Muons were discovered in cosmic rays byC. Anderson and S.H. Neddermeyer in 1937.There are two kinds of muon, the negative

µ

−

and its antimatter partner, the positive

µ

+

.They are essentially heavy versions of the elec-tron (and its antimatter partner, the positron)with the same spin and charge, but with amass

m

µ

= 105

.

66 MeV/

c

2

approximately 207times larger. Muons are unstable—decayinginto an electron (or positron) and two neutri-nos:

µ

+

→

e

+

+

ν

e

+

ν

µ

,

µ

−

→

e

−

+

ν

e

+

ν

µ

with an average lifetime

τ

µ

= 2

.

197

µ

s—about100 times longer than that of the charged pion.Because the muon undergoes a 3-body decay,the kinetic energy of the emitted electron isnot ﬁxed but has a broad distribution of val-ues with a maximum (endpoint energy) of 53MeV in the rest frame of the muon.

1

1

This is similar to nuclear beta-decay (another 3-body decay) where a neutron inside a nucleus decaysinto a proton, an electron, and an anti-neutrino. Infact, the neutrino’s existence was ﬁrst postulated toexplain why electrons from the beta-decay of a givenisotope are not emitted with a ﬁxed energy as wouldbe predicted if the neutron decayed into only a protonand electron.

CRM 1

CRM 2 Advanced Physics LaboratoryThe muon decay is a completely randomevent that does not depend on the past historyof the particle. That is, the probability

dP

of decay in the

next

inﬁnitesimal time interval

dt

is independent of how long it has lived sincecreation and is given by:

dP

= Γ

dt

(1)where the decay rate Γ is the inverse of thelifetime: Γ = 1

/τ

µ

.This decay process implies that the proba-bility of a muon decay in the interval from

t

to

t

+

dt

(given that the muon exists at

t

= 0) fol-lows the exponential probability density func-tion:

dP

e

(

t

) = Γ

e

−

Γ

t

dt

(2)Here, the time

t

represents the time for a par-ticular decay to occur and will be called a

de-cay time

. In one part of this experiment, youwill measure a large sample of decay times andcompare with this exponential distribution.

Exercise 1

(a) Explain the diﬀerence be-tween

dP

in Eq.1and

dP

e

(

t

)

in Eq.2 . (b)Show that the expectation value for the decay time is the lifetime:

⟨

t

⟩

=

τ

µ

. (c) Show that the muon “half-life” (the time at which half of a large sample of muons will have decayed) is given by

t

1

/

2

=

τ

µ

ln2

.

The diﬀerential ﬂux of cosmic ray muons(per unit time, per unit area, per unit solidangle) at the surface of the Earth is approxi-mately described by:

dN dAd

Ω

dt

≈

I

0

cos

k

θ

(3)where

θ

is the polar angle with respect to ver-tical,

k

≈

2, and

I

0

≈

100 m

−

2

sr

−

1

s

−

1

at sealevel. There is no expected dependence on theazimuthal angle

ϕ

. Eq.3is not expected to bevalid for

θ >

80

◦

where the Earth’s curvaturebecomes an important consideration.

area,

A

solid angle,

Ω

sphere radius,

R

Ω

=

2

Α

R y x z

Figure 1: The solid angle Ω subtended fromthe origin of a sphere of radius

R

by an arbi-trary area

A

on the sphere is Ω =

A/R

2

.Solid angle is a three-dimensional analog of an included angle in a two-dimensional plane.Shown in Fig.1, an arbitrary solid angle Ω canbe deﬁned by the area

A

it would cover on asphere of radius

R

centered at the apex of thesolid angle.Ω =

AR

2

(4)Solid angles are expressed in the dimension-less units of steradian, abbreviated sr.

2

Onesteradian is the solid angle covered by an areaof 1 m

2

on a sphere with a 1 m radius. No-tice that the solid angle for covering the entiresphere (area 4

πR

2

) is 4

π

sr.Figure2shows the geometry for Eq.3.

dN/dt

≈

I

0

cos

k

θdAd

Ω would be the rate atwhich muons pass through an area

dA

comingfrom a polar angle

θ

within the solid angle

d

Ω.The area

dA

should be considered to have its

2

The units of steradian should be dropped whereinappropriate. For example, in

A

= Ω

R

2

(from Eq.4),the units on the left are those of area (m

2

) and onthe right they are solid angle times length squared(srm

2

=m

2

).

October 26, 2012

Cosmic Ray Muons and the Muon Lifetime CRM 3

d

Ω

dA

θ φ

θ

dAdA'

d

Ω

dA'

θ φ

(a) (b) (c)

Figure 2: Muons arrive from all overhead directions (solid angles) and their ﬂux is described asa number per unit time per unit area per unit solid angle. In (a) the area element is orientedin the direction of the incoming muons. In (b) the area element is oriented vertically. (c)shows equivalent areas for the two cases:

dA

= cos

θdA

′

normal along the incoming direction as shownin Fig.2a and thus the area orientation wouldvary as

θ

or

ϕ

varies. Alternatively, the ori-entation of the area element could be takenin a ﬁxed, vertical orientation as in Fig.2b.A comparison between equal eﬀective areas inthe two cases is demonstrated in Fig.2c with

dA

=

dA

′

cos

θ

(5)Thus, for an area element oriented vertically,Eq.3would be

dN dA

′

d

Ω

dt

≈

I

0

cos

k

+1

θ

(6)Muons lose energy as they travel throughthe atmosphere and other materials. The in-dividual scattering events that lead to the en-ergy loss have some degree of randomness andlead to a range of energy loss and a range of scattering angles. The angular scattering issmall at typical cosmic ray muon energies andonly becomes signiﬁcant at very low energies.The mean energy loss per unit length (calledthe

stopping power

) for any charged particletraversing a block of matter is governed by theBethe-Bloch equation:

dE dx

=

−

Kz

2

Z A

1

β

2

·

(7)

[

12ln2

m

e

c

2

β

2

γ

2

T

2max

I

2

−

β

2

−

δ

2

]

Here

β

and

γ

are the usual relativistic factors,

Z

and

A

are the atomic number and mass of the medium,

z

is the charge of the incidentparticle,

T

max

is the maximum kinetic energythat may be transferred to an electron in acollision, and

K

,

I

, and

δ

are atomic factors.The stopping power is given as a functionof momentum for muons incident on copperin Fig.3. For reasons to be discussed shortly,the values are in units of MeV cm

2

/g and mustbe multiplied by the density of copper (8.94g/cm

3

) to get the stopping power in MeV/cm.The general shape of this graph is commonto charged particles other than muons. Atlow momentum, charged particles rapidly loseenergy through ionization and the stoppingpower is high. The stopping power decreases

October 26, 2012