The cosmic ray primary composition in the "knee" region through the EAS electromagnetic and muon measurements at EAS-TOP

M. Aglietta, B. Alessandro, P. Antonioli, F. Arneodo, L. Bergamasco, M. Bertaina, C. Castagnoli, A. Castellina, A. Chiavassa, G. Cini Castagnoli, B. D'Ettorre Piazzoli, G. Di Sciascio, W. Fulgione, P. Galeotti, P. L. Ghia, M. Iacovacci, G. Mannocchi, C. Morello, G. Navarra, O. SaavedraG. C. Trinchero, S. Valchierotti, P. Vallania, S. Vernetto, C. Vigorito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The evolution of the cosmic ray primary composition in the energy range 106-107 GeV (i.e. the "knee" region) is studied by means of the e.m. and muon data of the Extensive Air Shower EAS-TOP array (Campo Imperatore, National Gran Sasso Laboratories). The measurement is performed through: (a) the correlated muon number (Nμ) and shower size (Ne) spectra, and (b) the evolution of the average muon numbers and their distributions as a function of the shower size. From analysis (a) the dominance of helium primaries at the knee, and therefore the possibility that the knee itself is due to a break in their energy spectrum (at EkHe =(3.5±0.3)×106 GeV) are deduced. Concerning analysis (b), the measurement accuracies allow the classification in terms of three mass groups: light (p,He), intermediate (CNO), and heavy (Fe). At primary energies E0≈106 GeV the results are consistent with the extrapolations of the data from direct experiments. In the knee region the obtained evolution of the energy spectra leads to: (i) an average steep spectrum of the light mass group (γp,He>3.1), (ii) a spectrum of the intermediate mass group harder than the one of the light component (γCNO≃2.75, possibly bending at EkCNO≈(6-7)×106 GeV), (iii) a constant slope for the spectrum of the heavy primaries (γFe≃2.3-2.7) consistent with the direct measurements. In the investigated energy range, the average primary mass increases from 〈lnA〉=1.6-1.9 at E0≃1.5×106 GeV to 〈lnA〉=2.8-3.1 at E0≃1.5×107 GeV. The result supports the standard acceleration and propagation models of galactic cosmic rays that predict rigidity dependent cut-offs for the primary spectra of the different nuclei. The uncertainties connected to the hadronic interaction model (QGSJET in CORSIKA) used for the interpretation are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)583-596
Number of pages14
JournalAstroparticle Physics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2004


  • Cosmic rays composition
  • Extensive Air Showers
  • High energies
  • Knee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics


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