Neutrino ‘ghost particle’ detected in Antarctica leads to huge achievement in astronomy
DETECTED deep beneath the ice, scientists have traced a particle back to a volatile galaxy in an achievement set to improve our knowledge of fundamental physics.
IN A groundbreaking achievement experts say will usher in a new era of astronomy, scientists were able to trace the origins of a ghostly subatomic particle that travelled nearly 4 billion light-years to Earth.
The incredibly high energy particle, called a neutrino but often referred to as a “ghost particle” because they’re so tiny and difficult to observe, was detected on September 22 last year by the IceCube observatory. The remote facility is located in Antarctica and has giant sensors that sit more than a kilometre beneath the ice of the South Pole.
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory, near the South Pole, under the stars. Picture: Felipe PedrerosSource:Supplied
For scientists, neutrinos can act like messengers from distant cosmic radiation. They travel at nearly the speed of light, can escape the densest environments like black holes and may be traced back to their source of origin.
Despite the fact that trillions stream through your body every second, they have no electric charge and therefore interact rarely with their surroundings making them really hard to find.
The Antarctic facility detected the neutrino during a rare interaction with an atom below the ice. Scientists were able to trace it back to a galaxy with a supermassive, rapidly spinning black hole at its centre, known as a blazar.
Scientists believe that back when the sun was a lot dimmer and Earth was still forming, the blazar spat out neutrinos and gamma rays towards our planet’s southern pole. And now we’ve managed to trace one back.
Blazars are a type of active galaxy. In this artistic rendering, a blazar emits both neutrinos and gamma rays that could be detected by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory as well as by other telescopes on Earth and in space. Picture: IceCube/NASASource:Supplied
The achievement involved a team of more than 1000 researchers and was published today
in the Journal science
It heralds the arrival of a new era of astronomy in which researchers can learn about the universe using neutrinos as well as ordinary light, The Washington Post
“Blazars may indeed be one of the long-sought sources of very-high-energy cosmic rays, and hence responsible for a sizeable fraction of the cosmic neutrino flux observed by IceCube,” researchers wrote.
The application of the breakthrough has scientists excited about the potential to improve our understanding of the early universe and fundamental physics.
“This identification launches the new field of high-energy neutrino astronomy, which we expect will yield exciting breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe and fundamental physics, including how and where these ultra-high-energy particles are produced,” Doug Cowen, a founding member of the IceCube collaboration and professor of physics, astronomy and astrophysics, said in a statement.
“For 20 years, one of our dreams as a collaboration was to identify the sources of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, and it looks like we’ve finally done it!”
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