The ARGO-YBJ experiment has been in stable data taking from November 2007 till February 2013 at the YangBaJing Cosmic Ray Observatory (4300 m a.s.l.). The detector consists of a single layer of Resistive Plate Chambers (RPCs) (6700 m2) operated in streamer mode. The signal pick-up is obtained by means of strips facing one side of the gas volume. The digital readout of the signals, while allows a high space–time resolution in the shower front reconstruction, limits the measurable energy to a few hundred TeV. In order to fully investigate the 1–10 PeV region, an analog readout has been implemented by instrumenting each RPC with two large size electrodes facing the other side of the gas volume. Since December 2009 the RPC charge readout has been in operation on the entire central carpet (5800 m2). In this configuration the detector is able to measure the particle density at the core position where it ranges from tens to many thousands of particles per m2. Thus ARGO-YBJ provides a highly detailed image of the charge component at the core of air showers. In this paper we describe the analog readout of RPCs in ARGO-YBJ and discuss both the performance of the system and the physical impact on the EAS measurements.
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