Indexed on: 03 May '99Published on: 03 May '99Published in: Astrophysics
Detailed composition measurements can be a very powerful means of tracing origins, a fact used regularly by forensic scientists and art historians. One of the main motivating factors for making detailed observations of cosmic rays was always the hope that a unique compositional signature could be found which pointed unambiguously to a particular source. This has proven much harder than expected, but we have now reached a point where it appears possible to begin to decipher the information contained in the compositional data; the key, we have discovered, is to read the data not in isolation, but in the context provided by our general astronomical knowledge and by recent developments in shock acceleration theory (Meyer, Drury and Ellison, 1997, 1998; Ellison, Drury and Meyer, 1997). In our view (not, it is only fair to warn the reader, yet universally accepted) the data show clearly that the Galactic cosmic ray particles originate predominantly from the gas and dust of the general interstellar medium.