The origin of the highest energy cosmic rays is still unknown. The discovery of their sources is expected to reveal the workings of the most energetic astrophysical accelerators in the Universe. Current observations show a spectrum consistent with an origin in extragalactic astrophysical sources. Candidate sources range from the birth of compact objects to explosions related to gamma-ray bursts or to events in active galaxies. We discuss the main effects of propagation from cosmologically distant sources, including interactions with cosmic background radiation and magnetic fields. We examine possible acceleration mechanisms leading to a survey of candidate sources and their signatures. New questions arise from an observed hint of sky anisotropies and an unexpected evolution of composition indicators. Future observations may reach the necessary sensitivity to achieve charged particle astronomy and to observe ultrahigh-energy photons and neutrinos, which may further illuminate the workings of the Universe at these extreme energies. In addition to fostering a new understanding of high-energy astrophysical phenomena, the study of ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays can constrain the structure of the Galactic and extragalactic magnetic fields as well as probe particle interactions at energies orders of magnitude higher than achieved in terrestrial accelerators.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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