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The aim of these pages is to tell the story of the discovery of cosmic rays, which are intimately related to the work of the Austrian physicist Viktor Franz Hess. His findings benefited from the crispness of his reasoning as well as from the recent results obtained by his colleagues in radioactivity and electricity. After their extraterrestrial origin was discovered, cosmic rays were thoroughly studied. In particular, the question of their composition was investigated in detail. This led to the discovery of new particles and marked the birth of a new field of physics : particle physics.

This article presents, in a chronological order, the detectors that have been developped to study the new phenomena and the scientists involved in these discoveries.