Archeologists plan to scan the Great Pyramid of Giza with cosmic rays

Cosmic ray scans will be used to explore the pyramid.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, at sunset.Xurzon/iStock

Scientists and engineers have been studying the mysteries of the pyramids of Egypt for years now. But one thing still evades them: what is inside the two voids of the Great Pyramid of Giza?

Past scans have shown two voids in the ancient structure: one located just above the pyramid's grand gallery that measures about 98 feet (30 meters) long and 20 feet (6 m) in height and one much smaller void, just beyond the north face of the structure.

Now, a new team from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory is planning to undertake a cosmic-ray scan of the Great Pyramid once more to uncover specifically what lies in these two voids, according to a preprint paper published by the scientists last month. 

Get more updates on this story and more with The Blueprint, our daily newsletter: Sign up here for free.

A cosmic-ray scan

This advanced cosmic-ray scan relies upon the use of muons, the elementary particle created when cosmic rays hit atoms in Earth’s atmosphere. These particles are hundreds of times bigger than electrons and as a result, react differently to stone or dense matter. 

Increasingly, scientists have been using sensitive detectors to scan the muon content of structures. It is this process that allowed them to map Giza's empty spaces.

This technology has been used before but this group of scientists is planning on using a heightened version to get even better results.

"We plan to field a telescope system that has upwards of 100 times the sensitivity of the equipment that has recently been used at the Great Pyramid," the scientists wrote in their paper that has not been peer-reviewed yet.

A bump on the road

But their mission is not without obstacles. 

"Since the detectors that are proposed are very large, they cannot be placed inside the pyramid, therefore our approach is to put them outside and move them along the base. In this way, we can collect muons from all angles in order to build up the required data set," the team wrote in the paper.  

"The use of very large muon telescopes placed outside (the Great Pyramid) can produce much higher resolution images due to a large number of detected muons," they concluded.

What might be discovered in this great ancient structure? Only time will tell.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest pyramid ever built in ancient Egypt. It was built for the pharaoh Khufu during his reign that lasted from 2551 B.C. to 2528 B.C.


The pyramids of the Giza plateau have fascinated visitors since ancient times and are the last of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world still standing. It has been half a century since Luiz Alvarez and his team used cosmic-ray muon imaging to look for hidden chambers in Khafre’s Pyramid. Advances in instrumentation for High-Energy Physics (HEP) allowed a new survey, ScanPyramids, to make important new discoveries at the Great Pyramid (Khufu) utilizing the same basic technique that the Alvarez team used, but now with modern instrumentation. The Exploring the Great Pyramid Mission plans to field a very-large muon telescope system that will be transformational with respect to the field of cosmic-ray muon imaging. We plan to field a telescope system that has upwards of 100 times the sensitivity of the equipment that has recently been used at the Great Pyramid, will image muons from nearly all angles, and will, for the first time, produce a true tomographic image of such a large structure.