Neutrinos possibly coming from beyond our galaxy have been spotted in Antarctica. Their discovery could help unlock several puzzling cosmic events.
These almost massless particles were discovered by scientists with the IceCube Neutrino Observatory located in the icy world of Antarctica. Close to the South Pole, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory is buried 8,000 feet into the ice and comprises 86 shafts with 5,160 digital optical modules able to detect the light of high-energy particles interacting with the surrounding ice.
Albrecht Karle with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his team with the Antarctic observatory have confirmed the existence of neutrinos as messengers of distant galaxies and space events.
The detectors at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory have been collecting data on millions of particles they have encountered. Sifting through this data must have been a titanic research task, yet the results are rewarding.
From 2010 to 2013, the research team discovered that the detectors had registered 35,000 neutrino events, but only 21 high-energy muons or muon neutrinos. Muons are created as neutrinos interact with different particles on Earth. Typically, these massless particles are unstoppable. Sputtered in the atmosphere as a result of high-energy cosmic events such as exploding stars or galactic cores or black holes, neutrinos travel at incredible speeds and matter is not an obstacle to them.
Trillions of neutrinos blasted by the sun pass through us every day. But they do not interact with matter. Sometimes it happens that a neutrino hits an atomic nucleus which it will interact with, forming the muon.
Rather than searching for neutrinos, researchers look for muons which move more rapid than the speed of light in solid environments, such as ice. Yet, as they pass through, they leave a trail of light behind, scientifically coined Cherenkov radiation. This track of light is indicative of the neutrinos’ paths and place of origin as well.
In 2012, Bert and Ernie made the news. They weren’t the Sesame Street characters, but two neutrino events with an energy one million times higher than that of the neutrino events observed way back in 1987.
Bert and Ernie were discovered during a supernova occurring in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Their energy measured over 1 petaelectronvolt.
The study was published in the Physical Review Letters journal of August 20th.
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