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Particle Physics: Antarctic Detector Confirms Existence of Cosmic Neutrinos

First Posted: Aug 21, 2015 07:34 AM EDT
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An Antarctic detector has found particles from beyond our galaxy. The detector has found neutrinos that travelled to Earth from space.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles, and billions of them pass through Earth every day. However, these particles are incredibly difficult to detect. They're never directly observed, but the detector at the South Pole allows researchers to see the byproducts of neutrino interaction with the ice. The instrument itself is called the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.

In all, the observatory records 100,000 neutrinos each year, most of which are a type called muons generated when cosmic rays interact with the Earth's atmosphere. In contrast, the researchers were trying to find just a few dozen of these particles generated elsewhere.

"Looking for muon neutrinos reaching the detector through Earth is the way IceCube was supposed to do neutrino astronomy and it has delivered," said Francis Halzen, IceCube principal investigator, in a news release. "This is as close to independent confirmation as one can get with a unique instrument."

Neutrinos travel throughout the universe, almost undisturbed by matter, pointing directly to the sources where they were created. The highest energy neutrinos are expected to emanate from the most extreme environments in the universe, such as powerful cosmic generators, such as black holes or exploding stars.

"Cosmic neutrinos are the key to yet unexplored parts of our universe and might be able to finally reveal the origins of the highest energy cosmic rays, including the rare 'Oh-My-God' particles," said Olga Botner, IceCube Collaboration spokesperson.

The new findings are a good step forward for further discoveries, and the scientists are eager to continue hunting for particles.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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