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The particles are energetic enough to travel long distances and heavy enough to penetrate solid objects, such as the more than 2 million limestone blocks that make up the Great Pyramid. Those traveling through dense things like rock will eventually slow down, making them an ideal detector for hidden spaces within things.
The use of the technique in archaeology dates back to the 1960s when physicist Luis Alvarez placed muon detectors inside the nearby Pyramid of Khafre to see if any hidden chambers existed inside.
The researchers refrain from making any guesses as to what their discovery could mean, however.
They can’t even say for sure yet whether their find is one large chamber or several smaller ones.
Even their temporary name for the gap — “Big Void” — seems designed to deflate any hyperventilating supposition. We are not trying to make any interpretations,” says Cairo University professor of engineering Hany Helal and another co-author.
That study’s author, Zahi Hawass, the influential and polarizing former Minister of Antiquities, has been an outspoken critic of the Scan Pyramids team.
He didn’t find any, but the project would establish a precedent for using such detectors in the field.
Muon detectors have since been used to image archaeological sites in Mexico as well as volcanoes and nuclear power plants.
“If you have a muon detector behind or below an object that you want to probe, you are just counting the number of muons that are coming from a given direction, and this quantity of muons, the muon flux, gives you an indication about the integrated or averaged density of matter that you have in this direction,” says Sébastien Procureur, a co-author of the paper and researcher at the University of Paris-Saclay.
If more muons start to appear than expected, it’s an indication that an object might not be solid.