Particle physics found a secret, hidden chamber in the Great Pyramid

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Nov 2, 2017, 4:07 PM EDT

Mysteries are always being unearthed in the ancient sands of Egypt, but when particle physics was used to investigate the inside of the Great Pyramid (only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), what scientists found was haunting.

There is a void inside the pyramid. The oldest and most impressive pyramid in the Giza necropolis, which was built as a funerary monument for the Pharaoh Khufu. Khufu was the mastermind behind raising the Great Pyramid while he was still alive—as most pharaohs commanded the building of their own tombs—since Ancient Egyptians believed you really could take it with you.

While Khufu’s mummy was never found, the empty space discovered by the #ScanPyramids team of the HIP Institute in Paris is no less fascinating. Muons are particles formed when cosmic rays that shoot out of deep space collide with atoms in our atmosphere. Muography was the ideal non-destructive way for the scientists to demystify anything still hidden behind the stone walls of the Great Pyramid.

The denser the material that muons pass through, the weaker they become. By placing muon-detecting film in locations they suspected had secrets to tell, the scientists could gauge how dense the material inside the pyramid was by how many muons made it through.


That mysterious oblong shape is the void in the Great Pyramid.

The proto test was the Queen’s Chamber. If #ScanPyramids’ muon film test worked to accurately detect the King’s Chamber and Grand Gallery above it, then it could possibly find more intriguing things, except it did that sooner than the team could have predicted. The rooms were accurately detected along with an empty space whose purpose remains unknown. Additional tests proved that this find was not just the result of too many muons giving the impression of a void.  

“Having conducting those three complementary techniques, we are now able to confirm the existence of a “void” hidden behind the North Face that could have the form of at least one corridor going inside the Great Pyramid,” the team said in a press release on the HIP Institute website. “The precise shape, size, and exact position of this void is now under further investigation.”

It is possible for tiny robots to sneak in through cracks in the stone to give us an idea of what exactly lies in the shadows. #ScanPyramids will need to collaborate with Eyptologists to theorize what exactly the purpose of the void was. It’s easy to fantasize about gilded sarcophagi and treasure troves of artifacts, but it could have been something as simple as a gap in the building of the pyramid intentionally left there to ease the pressure on the rest of the heavy stones that comprise the 4,500-year-old tomb. Eternal life does take a toll on the houses of the dead.

(via NPR/HIP Institute)

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