Measurements of the muon content of extensive air showers at the highest energies show discrepancies compared to simulations as large as the differences between proton and iron. This so-called muon puzzle is commonly attributed to a lack of understanding of the hadronic interactions in the shower development. Furthermore, measurements of the fluctuations of muon numbers suggest that the discrepancy is likely a cumulative effect of interactions of all energies in the cascade.
A unique, novel feature of the air shower simulation code CORSIKA 8 allows us to access all previous generations of final-state muons up to the first interaction. With this technique, we study the influence of interactions happening at any intermediate stage in the cascade on muons depending on their energy and lateral distance in a quantitative way. We further relate our findings to recent and upcoming accelerator measurements and comment on the prospects of the proposed proton-oxygen run of the LHC.
hadronic interactions; muon puzzle; air shower simulations