The first Scan Pyramids results have revealed an "anomaly". Could it be a passage? A tomb? Or just a crack in the bedrock?
"Just because a mystery is 4,500 years old, doesn't mean it can't be solved."- So stated the promotional video for Scan Pyramids Mission when it launched in late October.
Their impressive goal is to comprehensively scan Egypt's colossal pyramids - inside and out - to look for hidden tunnels and chambers, as well as attempt to solve the big question: how were they built.
Just two weeks in, on November 9, the first results were spectacularly announced at the base of the Great Pyramid; and they are already talking about a secret passage.
The first phase of the project was a simple infrared scan to create a thermal map of the pyramids and reveal varying densities in their interior structures. It was largely carried out during sunrise, as the sun heats the pyramid from the outside, and during sunset as the stones are cooling down. The speed of the heating and cooling reveals "anomalies", where stones retain the heat longer, or cool down more quickly.
And 'hot rocks' is what they found. The first row of stones on the east face of the pyramid were all roughly the same temperature, except for three stones that were significantly warmer. The normal temperature variance between neighbouring blocks is usually .1 to .5 of a degree, the infrared scan picked up three blocks that were up to 6 degrees hotter than the adjacent stones!
Tantalisingly, these hot spots suggest empty areas behind the stones. Could it be a passage or a tomb?
Egypt's Minister of Antiquities, Mamdouh el-
However, as spectacular as a secret tomb in the Great Pyramid sounds, there may be a simpler, less dramatic explanation; the anomaly could simply be the result of a large crack in the bedrock behind the stones. Or alternatively, the blocks may have come from a different quarry than the surrounding stones, and the different material could account for the temperature difference.
The project's next step is to investigate the anomalies using technology that utilises particle physics! It says a lot about the ingenuity of the ancient Egyptians that, 4,500 years after they were built, we need to employ some of the most advance technology available to try and figure out how they did it.
This method detects particles called muons to distinguish between solid and hollow spaces within the pyramids. Muons constantly bombard the Earth, created when cosmic rays hit the atmosphere. About 10,000 of them pass through you and me every minute.
Muons react very little with air (and us, thankfully), but they can rapidly lose energy and change direction when hitting solid objects - like pyramids. Detectors can measure the accumulated muons inside the pyramids, revealing where the particles were absorbed or deflected, indicating a solid area, vs. hollow areas where the particles fell without interruption. In this way a muon detector can be used to effectively "see" through the pyramid and build an image of its interior structure. If there ARE hidden chambers inside Khufu's pyramid, we are about to find them.
One thing we CAN be sure of, is that the hot spots found so far aren't caused by rotting grain. Earlier this month U.S. Republican presidential hopeful, Ben Carson, claimed that the pyramids were built to store grain, not dead pharaohs. He based this on a 9th century tale that the Great Pyramids were the remains of granaries, built by the pharaoh on the advice of the Biblical Joseph to store grain for a forthcoming seven-year famine. Can you spell 'crazy'?
The Scan Pyramids Mission is being carried out by an international team, including scientists and architects from Canada, France, Egypt and Japan, examining Egypt's most ancient, most spectacular colossal monuments at an unprecedented level.
By the time they finish, at the end of 2016, they will also have scanned the Second Pyramid at Giza, built for Khufu's son Khafre, as well as the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid, both belonging to Khufu's father, Sneferu, at Dahshur.
They hope to find more "anomalies" and finally reveal the secrets that some of Egypt's greatest pharaohs took to their tombs.