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Great Pyramid mystery: Void leaves us full of questions

Technology that detects subatomic particles helps scientists find a previously unknown cavity in the ancient burial tomb in Giza.

The Giza pyramids poke above the buildings of Giza on September 24, 2017.

David Degner/Getty Images

The Great Pyramid may be ancient, but it still has something new to show us.

Scientists detected a previously unknown void in the largest of the pyramids in Giza, Egypt. They did it using subatomic particles called muons, according to findings published in Nature, but the purpose of the void remains a mystery.

Archeologists already knew the pyramid, built for Egyptian pharoah Khufu more than 4,000 years ago, contained two burial chambers and a grand gallery. The newly discovered void, which scientists believe no modern person has entered, could be another room, but it could be something else. For example, ancient Egyptian architects sometimes built empty spaces into pyramids to take pressure off the structure, an Egyptologist told Nature.

Muons, which are subatomic particles produced by cosmic rays that fall to Earth from space, can penetrate stone more deeply than x-rays. Measuring the activity of the particles as they passed through the pyramid naturally, the archeologists detected empty space in a large section of the pyramid where there was no previously known chamber.

Even if the cavity turns out to be nothing but an empty space, scientists will want to study it. Any clues about how the Great Pyramid was built would be valuable to archeologists who study the structure and the culture that produced it.

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