Scientists trace back elusive neutrino to distant black hole


These kinds of nuclear reactions are also known to produce cosmic rays, most of which originate from outside our solar system and are deflected by Earth's magnetic field. "Fermi" found near this area of the sky suspected source of this "intergalactic the alien" blazar TXS 0506+056.

Scientists have been in a constant conundrum over the origin of high energy particles from space which pound the Earth at vitality that can overtake the world's most developed particle called the neutrino.

Neutrinos are high-energy, hard-to-catch particles likely produced in powerful cosmic events, such as supermassive black holes actively devouring matter and galaxy mergers.

"The era of multi-messenger astrophysics is here", said National Science Foundation director France Cordova.

An artist's concept of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

IceCube continuously monitors the sky, in all directions, and detects a neutrino every few minutes.

When IceCube detected the high-energy neutrino last September, it automatically sent alerts with information on the neutrino's path and energy to several other observatories. Why? These extremely high-energy cosmic rays can be created only outside our galaxy and their sources have remained a mystery until now.

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"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 global team made up of more than 300 scientists from 12 countries.

The lure of neutrinos for astronomy is that it is possible to trace them back to their origins.

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. Scientists detailed their discovery in a pair of paper, both published this week in the journal Science.

Neutrinos are electrically neutral, undisturbed by even the strongest magnetic field, and rarely interact with matter, earning the nickname "ghost particle".

High-energy gamma rays can be produced either by accelerated electrons or protons. In this illustration, based on an aerial view near the South Pole, an artistic rendering of the IceCube detector shows the interaction of a neutrino with a molecule of ice. Completed in 2010, the observatory has been waiting for subtle signs of neutrino reactions in the Antarctic ice. This characteristics make neutrinos a blessing for science: since they cannot be stopped by anything, they whiz through stars, planets and entire galaxies and reach us as witnesses of astronomical events from which no electromagnetic waves can reach us. When a neutrino interacts with the nucleus of an atom, it creates a secondary charged particle, which, in turn, produces a characteristic cone of blue light that is detected by IceCube and mapped through the detector's grid of sensitive cameras. But, because neutrinos are so small and because atoms are nearly entirely empty space - if the nucleus of an atom were the size of a grape, the electrons would orbit at an average distance of about one mile - such collisions are rare.

However, the astrophysical community has since acquired the tools necessary to detect ghost particles with increased accuracy and track them back to their source.

The NSF-managed USAP built and maintains the IceCube observatory in one of the world's harshest environments.