Skip To Content
Cambridge University Science Magazine
The Great Pyramids of Egypt have been icons of global history and the magnificent capabilities of the human race for more than 4000 years. But have we really discovered all the mysteries within?

Two teams of researchers from Japan’s Nagoya University and France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energies Commission recently characterised a new corridor directly above the entrance of the Pyramid of Khufu. Given the decades-long investigation of the Pyramids, their discovery offers yet another demonstration of the ancient Egyptians’ engineering prowess, as well as the tantalizing prospect of further untouched beauty buried within.

The imaging technique used to discover the corridor is known as ‘muon radiography’. Muons are subatomic particles with similar properties to electrons, but with much more mass and less stability. They are produced by high energy cosmic rays colliding with the upper atmosphere, and decay within a few milliseconds of their production. Despite their short decay time, muons can reach the Earth’s surface and a fraction are able to penetrate matter - about one passes through the palm of your hand every second. The fraction of muons absorbed is determined by the density and thickness of the material being probed. By using several detectors placed strategically within the Pyramid’s structure and measuring the variation in muon flux, the researchers were able to estimate the mean density of surrounding matter in given directions. This led the team to conclude that there was an area of low density resembling a nine-metre long tunnel.

Although there is speculation as to the exact purpose of this corridor, it is likely to be a relieving chamber constructed to reduce the load of the pyramid on the entrance passage below. The use of muons from cosmic rays is not a new endeavour - the same method was used to discover another passage in 2017. With scientists breaking technological limits every year, this is just one example of the the widespread impact science can have on our understanding of the world.

Article by Armaan Shaikh

Image credit: Jorge Láscar

Image licence: Attribution (CC BY 2.0)

The original image has been cropped