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Neutrino Telescope May Revise Story of Early Cosmos

Construction of the world’s largest scientific instrument is proceeding in the frigid wastes of Antarctica. The initial deployment of what will become the IceCube neutrino telescope involved drilling a 1.5-mile deep hole into Antarctic ice, then installing 60 optical detectors in it that will detect the elusive particles. But that’s just the beginning: IceCube demands 70 such holes and 4200 of the volley-ball sized optical detectors. The final telescope will take up a cubic kilometer of ice and capture particles from the edge of the visible universe.

What makes neutrinos so interesting is their ability to travel vast distances without deflection or absorption; they seem to pass ghost-like through ordinary matter, and are unaffected by magnetic fields. “Neutrinos travel like bullets through a rainstorm,” Francis Halzen, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of physics and the principal investigator for the project explains. “Immense instruments are required to find neutrinos in sufficient numbers to trace their origin.”

And because neutrinos are associated with huge, violent events like galactic collisions and the formation of quasars, they may be able to tell us a great deal about the earliest days of the universe.

A University of Wisconsin article explains how IceCube works:

The optical modules that make up the detector act like light bulbs in reverse. They are able to sense the fleeting flash of light created when neutrinos passing through the Earth from the Northern Hemisphere occasionally collide with other atoms. The subatomic wreck creates another particle called a muon. The muon leaves a trail of blue light in its wake that allows scientists to trace its direction, back to a point of origin, potentially identifying the cosmic accelerators – black holes or crashing galaxies, for example – that produce the high-energy neutrinos.

IceCube ModulesImage: A total of 4,200 digital optical modules or DOMs, designed to sample high-energy neutrino particles from deep space, are being deployed in 70 deep holes in the Antarctic ice by an international team of scientists, engineers and technicians. Funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, IceCube is being built by an international consortium of universities and scientific laboratories. Photo: courtesy Daan Hubert

Centauri Dreams‘ take: Tracking neutrinos to their source offers insights into the early universe unavailable through other forms of astronomy — even cosmic rays are deflected in their path to us by intervening matter and magnetic fields. But what a challenge: the hot-water drill system for IceCube by itself took 30 separate C-130 flights from McMurdo Station to the South Pole. With ten more holes and their associated detectors planned for next year, IceCube will one day emerge as a major player in our understanding of cosmology.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ljk February 4, 2008, 12:21

    Particle astrophysics from the cold: Results and perspectives of IceCube

    Authors: C. de los Heros, for the IceCube Collaboration

    (Submitted on 1 Feb 2008)

    Abstract: We discuss results of the AMANDA neutrino telescope, in operation at the South Pole since 2000, and present the status and scientific potential of its km$^3$ extension, IceCube.

    Comments: To appear in the proceedings of the first AFI symposium, From the Vacuum to the Universe, Innsbruck, 19-20/10/2007. To be published by Innsbruck University Press. Eds S. D. Bass, F. Schallhart and B. Tasser

    Subjects: Astrophysics (astro-ph)

    Cite as: arXiv:0802.0147v1 [astro-ph]

    Submission history

    From: Carlos de los Heros [view email]

    [v1] Fri, 1 Feb 2008 15:30:39 GMT (831kb)


  • ljk February 20, 2008, 11:12

    IceTop – Cosmic Ray Physics with IceCube

    Authors: Tilo Waldenmaier

    (Submitted on 19 Feb 2008)

    Abstract: The IceCube experiment at South Pole consists of two detector components – the IceTop air shower array on the surface and the neutrino telescope at depths from 1450 m to 2450 m below. Currently, 26 IceTop stations and 22 InIce strings are deployed. With the present size of the IceTop array, it is possible to measure cosmic rays with energies ranging from 0.5 to 100 PeV. Coincident events between the IceTop and the InIce detector provide useful cross-checks of the detector performance and furthermore make it possible to study the cosmic-ray composition. This paper gives an overview on the current status of IceTop.

    Comments: 4 pages, 6 figures. Talk at Roma International Conference on Astroparticle Physics, June 2007

    Subjects: Astrophysics (astro-ph)

    DOI: 10.1016/j.nima.2008.01.015

    Cite as: arXiv:0802.2540v1 [astro-ph]

    Submission history

    From: Tilo Waldenmaier [view email]

    [v1] Tue, 19 Feb 2008 00:21:25 GMT (95kb)


  • ljk March 7, 2008, 12:03

    Advanced Civilizations Communicate with Neutrinos?

    Written by Fraser Cain

    It’s one of the biggest questions in all humanity: are we alone
    in the Universe? Either way, the answer is significant. And so,
    scientists are searching for intelligence out there. Huge arrays
    of radio telescopes, like the Allen Array scan the skies for radio
    broadcasts. And researchers have also proposed that aliens
    might be using lasers to communicate with us.

    A Russian researcher is proposing another way that aliens
    might be communicating with us – with neutrinos.

    Full article here with link to the Arvix paper:


  • ljk January 9, 2009, 10:31

    The hunt for cosmic neutrino sources with IceCube

    Authors: Elisa Bernardini, for the IceCube Collaboration

    (Submitted on 8 Jan 2009)

    Abstract: IceCube is a cubic-kilometer neutrino telescope under construction at the geographic South Pole. Once completed it will comprise 4800 optical sensors deployed on 80 vertical strings at depths in the ice between 1450 and 2450 meters.

    Part of the array is already operational and data was recorded in the configurations with 9 (year 2006/2007), 22 (year 2007/2008) and 40-strings (year 2008/2009) respectively. Here we report preliminary results on the search for point-like neutrino sources using data collected with the first 22 strings (IC-22).

    Comments: 10 pages, 3 figures, prepared for the Scineghe08 Conference, Padova/Italy (2008)

    Subjects: Astrophysics (astro-ph)

    Cite as: arXiv:0901.1049v1 [astro-ph]

    Submission history

    From: Elisa Bernardini [view email]

    [v1] Thu, 8 Jan 2009 15:54:22 GMT (1450kb)


  • ljk October 4, 2009, 23:17

    IceCube: The Rationale for Kilometer-Scale Neutrino Detectors

    Authors: Francis Halzen

    (Submitted on 2 Oct 2009)

    Abstract: At a time when IceCube is nearing completion, we revisit the rationale for constructing kilometer-scale neutrino detectors. We focus on the prospect that such observatories reveal the still-enigmatic sources of cosmic rays.

    While only a “smoking gun” is missing for the case that the Galactic component of the cosmic-ray spectrum originates in supernova remnants, the origin of the extragalactic component remains a mystery. We speculate on neutrino emission from gamma-ray bursts and active galaxies.

    Comments: 9 pages, 6 figures, from a talk presented at the 21st Rencontres de Blois, “Windows on the Universe”, resubmitted to correct a figure

    Subjects: High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena (astro-ph.HE)

    Cite as: arXiv:0910.0436v1 [astro-ph.HE]

    Submission history

    From: Francis Halzen [view email]

    [v1] Fri, 2 Oct 2009 18:16:27 GMT (2736kb)