But the days of butt-achey industrial inspection could be numbered, because a group of scientists at Los Alamos National Lab (you know, the atomic bomb place?) have figured out how to see through just about anything—including the radioactive disaster zone inside the Fukushima reactor core—using subatomic particles from outer space.
“Any industrial process is subject to flow-accelerated corrosion,” says Matt Durham, lead author of a new paper detailing the process, called muon tomography. Inside a pipe, whichever side that’s in contact with a fluid tends to get eaten up. The difficulty of disassembling a pipe for inspection means that comprehensive checks rarely happen. But using muons, “you don’t have to tear it apart,” says Durham. “You just have to zap it from the outside.”
Except Durham’s method doesn’t really do any zapping. The muon detector doesn’t emit anything. Instead, it just logs naturally-occurring muons as they enter and exit the pipe in question. Radioactive particles like these are everywhere in the universe. These ones start as particles called pions, which fly around in outer space until they enter the Earth’s atmosphere and decay into muons.
Read more at Space Particles Are Helping Map the Inside of Fukushima