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Monday 26 February 2018

Tiny particles discovery to unlock secrets of deep space

Steve Connor

Scientists are predicting a new age of astronomy with the discovery of the first sub-atomic neutrino particles from deep space, which could provide fresh insights into cosmic events in distant regions of the universe such as exploding stars and black holes.

An international team of researchers has confirmed the first detection of high-energy neutrinos – sub-atomic particles from beyond the solar system – by highly sensitive optical instruments buried a mile deep in the ice sheet of Antarctica.

Neutrinos from deep space normally pass straight through objects such as the Earth without being detected. But the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica has now confirmed the tell-tale flashes of light from 28 highly energetic neutrinos it has identified since 2011.

The breakthrough means that it is now possible to envisage a new class of telescopes based on neutrino detection. These could observe and measure cosmic phenomena that are difficult to detect with conventional telescopes, the researchers said.

"The era of neutrino astronomy has begun. The sources of neutrinos, and the question of what could accelerate these particles, have been a mystery for more than 100 years," said Professor Gregory Sullivan of the University of Maryland.

"Now we have an instrument that can detect astrophysical neutrinos. It's working beautifully, and we expect it to run for another 20 years," said Prof Sullivan, one of the 260 scientists from 11 countries who are participating in the project.

More than 5,000 highly sensitive light detectors are suspended from 86 steel cables embedded in a cubic kilometre of ice below the IceCube observatory to pick up the brief flashes of blue light created as neutrinos interact with the ice.

Billions of high-energy neutrinos from deep space pass through our bodies unnoticed every second, and several experiments around the world are designed to detect their tell-tale signals. But until now, the only neutrinos that have been detected are low-energy particles from the sun. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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