Cherenkov radiation
July 28, 2013 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Is it safe to be in a place where you can view Cherenkov radiation with your own eyes? Is there a place where I can see some that I could get into without a ridiculous amount of security clearance --like a tour of a nuclear power plant?
posted by 517 to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I know it's possible, at least for a journalist. There was a piece in Boston Magazine a while back about the nuclear reactor at MIT where they mentioned it was having maintenance work done and she might get a chance to look inside it. The reporter says she didn't actually take advantage of the offer, which strikes me as insane because WHO WOULDN'T WANT A CHANCE TO SAFELY VIEW CHERENKOV RADIATION??, but, whatever.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:19 PM on July 28, 2013

There may be an experimental reactor or particle collider in your area where you could get a chance to view it. Say you're a freelance journalist writing a story about it. As a freelancer I've been able to talk to tons of people and go to a lot of places.

And then write a story about it.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:22 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

This previous question from 2007 has some good answers.
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:22 PM on July 28, 2013

A quick glance at the source of most of the photos of Cherenkov radiation I found on Google suggests they were taken at research reactors.

I've seen it, as part of my Intro Chem class in college its cool, but I don't know that I'd go out of my way to see it again.
posted by Good Brain at 1:30 PM on July 28, 2013

The Super-Kamiokande experiment uses Cherenkov radiation to detect neutrinos. As far as I know, it's safe to be in the detection chamber (aside from the fact that it's full of heavy water). It's extremely unlikely you could get in there to see it with your own eyes, but it should be physically possible.
posted by Maecenas at 2:52 PM on July 28, 2013

A lot of high energy physics experiments use Cherenkov detectors, but I doubt the result would be visible to the naked eye (all of the detectors I know of use photomultiplier tubes to amplify the signal). Also the detectors have to be kept in complete darkness so that they know where the photons are coming from, so sorry, I don't think that's the best way.

I'd see if you can get a tour around a nuclear power plant, college research reactor or big nuclear research facility near you. This stack change page suggests that Penn State will help you.
posted by Ned G at 3:11 PM on July 28, 2013

When I was a kid I went on field trips to the local university's research reactor (twice!). If they were willing to let a bunch of 12 year olds in there it shouldn't be impossible for a reasonable adult.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:39 PM on July 28, 2013

517, if you are anywhere near Portland, OR, look into visiting the Reed Reactor. When you contact them, mention this, as the Cherenkov radiation is only visible when they are running the reactor at near full power.

What you are problably looking to visit is a place with an open pool (swimming pool) design. TRIGA reactors are usually these. If you can find one where they can pulse the reactor, that's even better. (Oregon State has one of these, but it does not look like they offer tours on a regular basis.)
posted by Hactar at 8:06 PM on July 28, 2013

Univ. of MO-RollaMissouri Univ. of Science and Technology has a swimming pool reactor as well. When I was in school, they offered tours of it on a regular basis, but that was pre-9/11 and I suspect policies may have changed there. But if you have any reason to be near central Missouri you might reach out to them.
posted by jferg at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2013

As for the "is it safe to [see]", no one posted the XKCD about it ?

(answer: totally safe)

(I'm assuming the blue lights you want to see are the kind only seen in the water .. )
posted by k5.user at 8:43 AM on July 29, 2013

Hactar: "(Oregon State has one of these, but it does not look like they offer tours on a regular basis."

OSU's website claims to give tours; pretty much any University with a TRIGA gives tours I think.
posted by pwnguin at 8:24 PM on July 31, 2013

I had a colleague tell me a few years ago that you ought to be able to see Cherenkov radiation from cosmic ray muons when they pass through the vitreous humor your eye. You would see it best with your pupils pointed at the sky, eyes closed, in a good dark room.

I'm not sure what rate to expect --- certainly low enough that most people haven't noticed it, and probably lower at sea level than at high altitude. I try to look for it occasionally, but I always fall asleep.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:30 AM on August 2, 2013

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