Antarctic Observatory Detects Unexplained Ultra-High-Energy Particles

Antarctic Observatory Detects Unexplained Ultra-High-Energy Particles

21 May 2013

IceCube, the biggest observatory ever created in the world to capture elementary subatomic particles known as neutrinos, has registered the signal of 28 neutrinos carrying huge amounts of energy. Two of the neutrinos, which most likely come from sources beyond our solar system, are the highest-energy particles ever seen, with energies of more than one peta-electron volt (PeV), or bigger than 1,000,000,000,000,000 volts.

According to researchers at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, including scientists from Pennsylvania State University, these super-energetic neutrinos carry energy greater than any particles produced by accelerators built by humans.

The IceCube is a giant particle detector at the South Pole which features over 5,000 digital/optical sensors melted into a cubic kilometer of ice. The telescope is designed to detect neutrinos through fleeting flashes of blue light generated when a neutrino touches a water molecule in the ice.

High energy-neutrinos hardly interact with matter and are not affected by the electromagnetic forces in our galaxy. Capturing these particles is a huge achievement, as neutrinos carry information about the highest-energy and most remote phenomena in the universe. Although it is still early to talk about the origin of these neutrinos, the energy they carry is too great to be produced by cosmic rays interacting with the Earth's atmosphere, which means they might come from distant accelerators of subatomic particles elsewhere in our galaxy or even further away, the deputy spokesperson of the IceCube Collaboration and Penn State Associate Professor of Physics, Tyce DeYoung, commented.

The IceCube Collaboration, which comprises several Penn State faculty, postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate researchers, will continue to work towards refining and extending the search for neutrinos to capture more high-energy particles and possibly identify their origin.