For the first time ever, scientists have apparently proven that a region of Antarctica, deep beneath the ice, was affected by the cosmic rays of a specific galaxy billions of light years away. A high-energy neutrino, one of the highest energy known particles in the universe, was traced back to a cosmic source, supposedly solving a century-old scientific puzzle.
Neutrinos are known as subatomic particles that have nearly no mass, and no electric charge either, which means the particles hardly react with their surroundings at all.
What’s stranger, scientists have maintained that trillions of neutrinos, “ghost particles” as they are sometimes referred to, flow through our own bodies unnoticed and affecting almost nothing, every second.
Most neutrinos that constantly pass through us every day come from our own Sun, but some of them, which in particular have extremely high energy, have come all the way to planet Earth from the deep, deep depths of space even outside our own galaxy.
Until now, tracing the origin of where these neutrinos come from has been very difficult.
The use of several different instruments, including observations by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica allowed the scientists to track down the source of one cosmic neutrino, to a very distant blazar, which is a massive, elliptical galaxy with what they claim is a supermassive, fast spinning black hole at the heart of the galaxy.
As you might expect, these cosmic neutrinos sort of go hand in hand with cosmic rays, the general term used to describe extremely energetic, charged particles that constantly hit our planet. Now, it is believed that blazars accelerate some of the fastest moving, most energetic cosmic rays as well. So the discharge of energy from a galaxy who knows how far away, can further accelerate how energetic the rays hitting our planet are: that’s incredible.
Cosmic rays were officially discovered in 1912. However, the charged nature of the particles have made them difficult to observe from the start. Cosmic rays seem to be pulled in various directions, by different objects as they travel through space. So they finally observed cosmic rays by observing the “straight line journey” of a neutrino that was acting as some sort of point of stability for observing the particles, the new research claims.
“We have been looking for the sources of cosmic rays for more than a century, and we finally found one,” lead scientist at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory and a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Francis Halzen said.
Keep in mind, the US National Science Foundation manages the facility IceCube, so an agenda may be present in this even if we don’t see it now.
In any case, this Antarctic facility is composed of 86 cables, which are tucked into holes bored about 1.5 miles or 2.5 kilometers deep into the Antarctic ice. Every one of the 86 cables is equipped with 60 basketball sized digital optial modules, which sensitive light detectors.
According to Space.com:
“These detectors are designed to pick up the characteristic blue light emitted after a neutrino interacts with an atomic nucleus. (This light is thrown off by a secondary particle created by the interaction. And in case you were wondering: All that overlying ice prevents particles other than neutrinos from reaching the detectors and dirtying up the data.) These are rare events; IceCube spots just a couple of hundred neutrinos per year, Halzen said.”
In 2013, the facility managed to note that they detected neutrinos from beyond our own Milky Way galaxy, though at the time they couldn’t identify exactly where they came from.
But on September 22, 2017, something happened. They picked up another cosmic neutrino, with such extreme energy it’s compared to 50 times the energy of the protons that cycle through the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. That’s equivalent to 300 teraelectron volts.
After it was detected, an immediate notification was sent out to astronomers to locate the coordinates of sky where the thing came from. They did it.
About 20 ground telescopes and a few in space examined the area in which the blast seemed to come from, and they found the known blazar, TXS 0506+056, which is about 4 billion light-years from Earth.
“All the pieces fit together,” senior IceCube scientist and UW-Madison physics professor Albrecht Karle said. “The neutrino flare in our archival data became independent confirmation. Together with observations from the other observatories, it is compelling evidence for this blazar to be a source of extremely energetic neutrinos, and thus high-energy cosmic rays.”
(Image credit: Space)