Detection of cosmic neutrinos opens new era in astronomy

A detector buried under a mile of Antarctic ice has found neutrinos.
Nov. 21, 2013 at 3:48 PM
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BERKELEY, Calif., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- A neutrino observatory buried at the South Pole has confirmed there are powerful particle accelerators somewhere in the universe, researchers say.

High-energy neutrinos detected by the "IceCube" detector show those cosmic accelerators are 40 million times more powerful than the Large Hadron Collider at Europe's CERN -- although what the cosmic accelerators are or where they are located is unknown, they said.

"The IceCube Collaboration has announced the observation of 28 extremely high energy events that constitute the first solid evidence for astrophysical neutrinos from outside our solar system," Spencer Klein of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a longtime member of the IceCube Collaboration, said.

"These 28 events include two of the highest energy neutrinos ever reported, which have been named Bert and Ernie," he said in a Berkeley Lab release Thursday.

Somewhere in the universe, the researchers said, something is accelerating particles to energies above 50 trillion electron volts and, in the cases of Bert and Ernie, exceeding one quadrillion electron volts.

Human efforts with the CERN collider have accelerated particles to approximately 4 trillion electron volts.

Electrically neutral and nearly massless, neutrinos travel through space in a straight line from their point of origin, passing through virtually everything in their path without being impacted.

While IceCube, buried beneath almost a mile of ice, can't determine what cosmic accelerators are or where they're located, its results provide a compass that can suggest answers, researchers said.

Early results point at active galactic nuclei, the enormous particle jets ejected by a black hole after it swallows a star, they said.

"The 28 events being reported are diffuse and do not point back to a source," Klein said, "but the big picture tends to suggest active galactic nuclei as the leading contender with the second leading contender being something we haven't even thought of yet."

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