Neutrino discovery helps resolve a century-old riddle

Neutrino discovery helps resolve a century-old riddle

Pablo Tucker
July 17, 2018

They interact with other matter only by gravity and the so-called weak nuclear force and thus flow through us, Earth and even miles of lead like ghosts. Indeed, billions of neutrinos stream through our fingernails every second, without ruffling so much as a molecule of matter.

Data gathered by NSF's IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica point to an answer to a more than century-old riddle about the origins of high-energy cosmic rays.

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. A blazar is a type of galaxy with a central black hole that spins at high speed and spews streams of neutrinos in opposing directions. 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.

According to scientists, the discovery of these particles allows them to study the universe in a brand-new way, hinting that this might allow them to track the origin of cosmic rays for the very first time.

Equipped with a almost real-time alert system, triggered when a very high-energy neutrino collides with an atomic nucleus in the Antarctic ice in or near the IceCube detector, the observatory broadcast coordinates of the September 22 neutrino alert to telescopes worldwide for follow-up observations. This blazar is situated in the night sky just off the left shoulder of the constellation Orion and is about 4 billion light years from Earth. Cosmic rays are made up of protons and other charged particles and are nearly impossible to trace to their origins because the particles are deflected by magnetic fields as they travel through space. But neutrinos have little or no mass, travel at almost the speed of light, are not electrically charged and rarely interact with normal matter.

This time, as Botner and her colleagues report in the journal Science, two observatories, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov telescope, saw a burst of gamma energy coming from the same location as the neutrino. Scientists estimated the energy of the parent neutrino to be around 290 TeV, indicating a 50% chance that it had an astrophysical origin beyond the Solar System.

Blazars are probably not the only sources for high-energy neutrinos or high-energy cosmic rays, Prof. This time Scientists by using the data from a detector which was embedded in a great block of ice at the South Pole, get to trace that an eerie and elusive particle's presence.

"There have been previous claims that blazar flares were associated with the production of neutrinos, but this, the first confirmation, is absolutely fundamental". When those streams are pointed at Earth, like TXS 0506+056 is, these galaxies are dubbed blazars. We have too many tools and machinery to dig out everything to understand it from its base. - Regina Caputo, the analysis coordinator for the Fermi Large Area Telescope Collaboration. "It is right to say that we are all swimming in neutrinos". Collisions between high-energy neutrinos and atomic nuclei are very rare but produce an unmistakable signature - a characteristic cone of blue light that is mapped through the detector's grid of 5,000 photomultiplier tubes.

Washington, Jul 13 (Prensa Latina) An global team of scientists found for the first time the origin of a neutrino from outside the Milky Way, a ghost particle that marks the beginning of a cosmic ray source, the journal Science published today.

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