There are two basic types of showers. Electromagnetic showers are produced by a particle that interacts primarily or exclusively via the electromagnetic force, usually a photon or electron. Hadronic showers are produced by hadrons (i.e. nucleons and other particles made of quarks), and proceed mostly via the strong nuclear force.
An electromagnetic shower begins when a high-energy electron or photon enters a material. At high energy, photons interact with matter primarily via pair production—that is, they convert into an electron-positron pair, interacting with an atomic nucleus or electron in order to conserve momentum. High-energy electrons and positrons primarily emit photons, a process called bremsstrahlung. These two processes continue in turn, until the remaining particles have lower energy. Electrons and photons then lose energy via scattering until they are absorbed by atoms.
A hadronic shower is produced by a high-energy hadron such as a nucleon, pion, or atomic nucleus. Some such particles have electric charge, and so produce showers that are partially electromagnetic, but all also interact with nuclei via the strong force. Although the details are more complex for this force, such an interaction involves one hadron interacting with a nucleus and producing several lower-energy hadrons. This continues, as with the electromagnetic shower, until all particles are stopped or absorbed in the material.
Cosmic rays hit earth's atmosphere on a regular basis, and they produce showers as they proceed through the atmosphere. It was from these air showers that the first muons and pions were detected experimentally, and they are used today by a number of experiments as a means of observing ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. Some experiments, like Fly's Eye, have observed the visible atmospheric fluorescence produced at the peak intensity of the shower; others, like Haverah Park experiment, have detected the remains of a shower by sampling the energy deposited over a large area on the ground.
In particle detectors built at high-energy particle accelerators, a device called a calorimeter records the energy of particles by causing them to produce a shower and then measuring the energy deposited as a result. Many large modern detectors have both an electromagnetic calorimeter and a hadronic calorimeter, with each designed specially to produce that particular kind of shower and measure the energy of the associated type of particle.
Researchers Claim to Find Last Fundamental Particle; Teams at Fermilab Detect Evidence Supporting Existence of the Elusive Top Quark
Mar 03, 1995; Two research teams working independently at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside Chicago yesterday declared that...