Neutrino demonstration heralds a new way of observing the cosmos

Cesar Mills
July 15, 2018

A key feature of blazars is twin jets of light and elementary particles that shoot from the poles of the swirling whirlwind of material surrounding the black hole.

Scientists for the first time have been able to pinpoint the source of an extremely powerful version of a neutrino, a ghostly particle that can travel virtually unimpeded through space.

But the IceCube detection promises to open up a new window on the Universe. Encompassing a cubic kilometer of deep, pristine ice a mile beneath the surface at the South Pole, the detector is composed of more than 5,000 light sensors arranged in a grid. Moreover, a review of previous IceCube data revealed that more neutrinos detected from the previous years were coming from the same blazar.

Neutrinos are called ghost particles because they are incredibly small and hard to detect. Unlike cosmic rays, however, neutrinos travel across space and time virtually undisturbed in a perfectly straight line.

"These intriguing results represent the remarkable culmination of thousands of human years of intensive activities by the IceCube Collaboration to bring the dream of neutrino astronomy to reality", said U of A physics professor Darren Grant, IceCube spokesperson and Canada Research Chair in Astroparticle Physics, speaking of the worldwide team made up of more than 300 scientists from 12 countries.

During the event in September, a traversing muon deposited 22 TeV of energy in the IceCube detector.

As such, the IceCube team are already trying to expand upon their latest discovery.

Telescopes on the ground and in orbit immediately started scanning the region of space the neutrino came from, searching for anything that might have been energetic enough to launch it.

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The neutrino originated in a blazar galaxy almost 4 billion light-years away, in the constellation Orion.

"Blazars are very special objects", Botner says. Black holes are capable of generating intense radiation.

To confirm that TXS 0506+056 was indeed the source of the single energetic neutrino detected in September, Botner and her colleagues went back through almost a decade of data IceCube had collected.

Associate Professor Gary Hill, from the University of Adelaide's School of Physical Sciences, said, "So what we've found is not only the first evidence of a neutrino source but also evidence that this galaxy is a cosmic ray accelerator". There are several follow-up observations detailed in a half dozen papers in addition to the two Science papers. The black hole is estimated to have been in a distant galaxy that destructed four billion years ago. The NASA Postdoctoral Fellow program is administered by Universities Space Research Association under contract with NASA. "Because these are direct outputs from those black holes".

And the lasting result is a new way in front of us to see and get full information of some of the most powerful forces which exist in our universe.

In this Q&A, Berkeley Lab physicist Spencer Klein, who has been a part of the IceCube collaboration since 2004, discusses Berkeley Lab's historic contributions to IceCube, and IceCube's contributions to science.

"It's expanded from just visible light to X-rays and gamma rays, and also to infrared and radio waves", she says. They differ in wave length, but they're all from the same family.

With a roughly one in 740 probability that the neutrino just happened to coincidentally come from the blazer location I.e it looked like it came from the blazer, but really it came from elsewhere, the link between the two isn't yet guaranteed.

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