Construction has begun in the Tunka Valley near Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia, on one of the world's largest cosmic-ray observatories. The first prototypes for the $46m Hundred Square-km Cosmic Origin Explorer (HiSCORE) are now being installed and when complete by the end of the decade the facility will consist of an array of up to 1000 detectors spread over 100 square kilometres. HiSCORE will aim to solve the 100-year-old mystery surrounding the origins of cosmic rays – particles that originate in outer space and are accelerated to energies higher than those achieved in even the largest man-made particle accelerators.

HiSCORE is a collaboration between three institutes in Russia – the Institute for Nuclear Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Irkutsk State University in Siberia and Lomonosov Moscow State University – as well as DESY, the University of Hamburg and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, all in Germany. The unprecedented size of the array will allow scientists to investigate cosmic rays within an energy range of 100 TeV to 1 EeV – a relatively unexplored region.

HiSCORE's detectors are designed to observe the radiation created when cosmic rays hit the Earth's upper atmosphere. This causes a shower of secondary particles that travel faster than the speed of light in air, producing Cherenkov radiation in the process that can be picked up by HiSCORE's photomultiplier tubes. This radiation can be used to determine the source and intensity of cosmic rays as well as to investigate the properties of high-energy astronomical objects that emit gamma rays, such as supernova remnants and blazars. "We are especially interested in galactic objects that accelerate cosmic rays to energies around peta-electron-volts – or pevatrons – that have yet to be discovered," Martin Tluczykont from the University of Hamburg, who is co-ordinating the project, told Physics World. "They are crucial to a solution of the origin of cosmic rays.'"

With its remote location, Lake Baikal is rapidly becoming a hotbed for cosmic-ray research. It already hosts the Tunka-133 cosmic-ray observatory, which has been in operation since 2009, and is also home to the Baikal Deep Underwater Neutrino Telescope (BDUNT), which is located 1.1 km below the surface of the lake and observes the Cherenkov radiation produced by high-energy neutrinos. The BDUNT is set to be replaced by the Gigaton Volume Detector, which will be one of the world's largest neutrino telescopes when it is complete later this decade.