Polar telescope sights first high-energy neutrinos


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A novel telescope, buried deep in the Antarctic ice at the South Pole, has become the first instrument to detect and track high-energy neutrinos from space, setting the stage for a new field of astronomy that promises a view of some of the most distant, enigmatic and violent phenomena in the universe.

Writing in the March 22 edition of the British scientific journal Nature, an international collaboration of physicists and astronomers reports the first observation of high-energy neutrinos using the AMANDA Telescope, a large array of buried detectors designed to detect the fleeting signs of high-energy subatomic particles from the farthest reaches of space.

"We have proven the technique," says Francis Halzen, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of physics and the lead author of the Nature paper. "We have a unique probe with a sensitivity well beyond other experiments, and the neutrinos we've seen are of a higher energy than has been seen before."

Neutrinos are invisible, uncharged, nearly massless particles that can travel cosmological distances. Unlike the photons that make up visible light, or other kinds ofradiation, neutrinos can pass unhindered through stars, vast magnetic fields and entire galaxies without skipping a beat.

To be able to detect high-energy neutrinos and follow their trails back to their points of origin promises unparalleled insight into such extraordinary phenomena as colliding black holes, gamma-ray bursters, the violent cores of distant galaxies and the wreckage of exploded stars.

Of all high-energy particles, only neutrinos can directly convey astronomical information from the edge of the universe -- and from deep inside the most cataclysmic high-energy processes, notes Robert Morse, a UW-Madison professor of physics and the principal investigator for the AMANDA project.

Sunk more than one-and-a-half kilometers beneath the South Pole, the National Science Foundation-funded AMANDA Telescope is designed to look not up, but down, through the Earth to the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. Since neutrinos can and do skip through the Earth continuously, it is the logical direction to point the telescope in order to filter out other, confusing high-energy events. The Earth between the detector at the South Pole and the northern sky filters out everything but neutrinos.

The AMANDA telescope array consists of 677 optical modules, each the size of a bowling ball, arrayed on electrical cables set deep in the ice beneath the South Pole and arranged in a cylinder 500 meters in height and 120 meters in diameter.

The glass modules at the heart of AMANDA work like light bulbs in reverse, capturing the faint and fleeting streaks of light created when the occasional neutrino crashes head on into another particle such as a proton. The subatomic wreck creates a muon, another subatomic particle that, conveniently, traces an ephemeral trail of blue light through the ice identical to the path of the neutrino. In theory, that trail can be used to point back to the neutrino's point of origin. The discovery of point sources of high-energy cosmic neutrinos is a long-standing quest of modern astrophysics.

Cosmic neutrinos are believed to be generated in the universe's most violent events - exploding stars and active galactic nuclei, extremely violent and not-at-all understood phenomena at the heart of many galaxies.

The results presented in this week's Nature are based on AMANDA observations of high-energy atmospheric neutrinos, neutrinos created when cosmic rays crash into the Earth's atmosphere. While astrophysical in nature, they are not the cosmic neutrinos coveted by scientists. Instead, they simply prove that the AMANDA detector is a working neutrino telescope.

"This paper establishes the AMANDA experiment as a neutrino telescope," according to Albrect Karle, a UW-Madison professor of physics and AMANDA scientist. "Now we can do astrophysics."

However, while the new results from AMANDA represent a critical step toward establishing a new field of astronomy, a much bigger detector is required, the Nature paper's authors write, to search the sky for the speculated sources of the cosmic neutrinos that constantly bombard the Earth. Toward that end, plans are being made to construct a much larger detector know as IceCube. To consist of 4,800 optical modules on 80 strings, the IceCube detector would effectively convert a cubic kilometer of Antarctic ice into the world's largest scientific instrument.

Still, the success of AMANDA in detecting neutrinos at high energies effectively extends the reach of conventional neutrino physics beyond any existing experiment and is a promising step toward the 40-year-old dream of neutrino astronomy, says Morse, who has spent the last decade overseeing the building of AMANDA.

"This is our coming-out party," he says. "Now we start the process of discovery."
high energy neutrinos

What kind of a telescope is this, that can "view" an object that by definition has no mass and no electrical charge? In short, an object that by definition is "nothing". Can this telescope also "see" the showers of electrons and protons that continously bombard earth causing the atmospheric phenomenom known as the aurora borealis? Can it "view" the impact products produced by the collision between incoming protons and the molecules of our atmosphere?
high energy neutrinos

How can an object that has no mass have kinetic energy, as I presume that the energy in its designation has to do with motion? How can an object that has no mass "collide" with anything? Since Pauli came up with this ghostly particle back in the early thirties I have carefully stored it into the same container where I keep my sample of ether.
Unregistered said

...an object that by definition has no mass and no electrical charge?

The article said

Neutrinos are invisible, uncharged, <B>nearly massless</B> particles

Unregistered said

What kind of a telescope is this, that can "view" an object that by definition has no mass and no electrical charge?"

What "kind" of telescope can see the massless and chargeless photon?

Unregistered said

How can an object that has no mass "collide" with anything?

Photons "collide" with electrons. Helps with vision.

Some three types of neutrinos have now been detected and it is now presumed that there is some very slight mass associated with at least one of these types. This is, indeed, a major discovery and will go a long way towards the progress of modern cosmology.

Though millions of these ephemeral particles are streaming through each cubic centimeter at any given second, according to modern physics, their rate of interaction with ponderable matter is statistically extremely small. Because of their large numbers and ability to penetrate an entire planet without a very great chance of interaction, the neutrino observatory in Antarctica is a major advance in modern observational cosmology. We must, therefore, congratulate those scientists who have laboured so long and so very well to develop this new instrument of modern science.

We must offer the sincere wish that our civilization should continue so that we may witness the fulfillment of this new development and many others also now coming into being as well.
Aloha, Paul, ;)

This is the first forum I've bothered to register in. I'm still looking for that other one you mentioned -- the one about Supernova's, Fermi and CERN -- and am in the process of building my learning curve. My doctor says that keeping the brain active is a useful activity, particularly that I'm now going on 67! (smile). So, there is this new kind of telescope in Antartica, hey? Who paid for it?