Science

'A new sense:' Alberta scientists help track high-energy neutrino

'A new sense:' Alberta scientists help track high-energy neutrino

The new results may not only be a key to understanding these exotic particles, they are also an important step towards a new, more comprehensive kind of astronomy.

The IceCube team released two papers in Science that cover what their observatory recorded to have happened on September 22 a year ago. "For years, we've had a long list of potential sources for high-energy neutrinos". At first, they appeared to be shooting from random directions across the sky - until a single neutrino was recorded by the IceCube telescopes deployed at the South Pole. Neutrinos show the complex processes that occur inside the environment, and cosmic rays show the force and speed of violent activity. Neutrinos, however, are uncharged particles, unaffected by even the most powerful magnetic field.

The particle was discovered by researchers with the help of telescopes and it is of great importance in the scientific world, as this is the first time when a high-energy neutrino has been followed on the way back to its origin, a great distance from our solar system.

An global team of scientists, including two researchers from Georgia Tech, has found the first evidence of a source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, ghostly subatomic particles that can travel unhindered for billions of light years from the most extreme environments in the universe to Earth. TXS 0506+056 is a type of quasar known as a blazar, in which our line of sight from Earth is along the jet - right down the gun barrel.

Using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray space telescope, scientists traced the path of this hard-to-catch particle to a blast of gamma-ray light from a distant supermassive black hole in the constellation Orion. They detected a flare of high-energy gamma rays associated with TXS 0506+056. This emerging area is called "multi-messenger astrophysicist". They also found cosmic rays and gamma rays coming from the same place, confirming their suspicions. It was actively flaring gamma rays, a signature of this type of black hole and a telling coincidence that it was the source of the neutrino. Neutrinos are the decay products of pions. "In order to produce them, you need a proton accelerator". They detected a specific high-energy neutrino arriving on a vector that lined up with a specific blazar that was flaring gamma rays. The sun and supernovae produce some of the astrophysical neutrinos, but IceCube has detected others with energies way too high to be from those sources-these are the especially interesting ones.




Such a detector is buried deep beneath the South Pole, encompassing 35 billion cubic feet of ice. They don't interact with electromagnetic radiation, and rarely interact with matter. The neutral charge of neutrinos instead means they are unaffected by magnetic fields and because they pass nearly entirely through matter, they can be used to trace a straight path all the way back to their source.

UCLA is among 49 institutions in 12 countries that are IceCube collaborating institutions. These tiny particles hardly ever interact with matter, even after passing through entire galaxies.

IceCube cost about $250 million to build and nearly nothing to operate, because it is all frozen in the ice. Reactions are extremely rare. NSF also provides $7 million annually to operate and maintain the facility.

It is not exactly atypical for the Earth to be hit by neutrinos from outer space.

MIT's physics professor and member of the IceCube Collaboration Janet Conrad, who is a co-author of both published papers, threw light on the journey of over 300 scientists from across the globe to uncover mysteries of the ascendingly energetic neutrinos and their sources. These observatories are run by worldwide teams with a total of over a thousand scientists supported by funding agencies in countries around the world.


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