December 16, 2008

‘IceCube’ telescope under construction

An international team of scientists is working under Antarctica's snow-covered surface to build the world's largest neutrino telescope.

The telescope -- called IceCube -- will occupy a cubic kilometer of Antarctica when it is completed in 2011, said University of Delaware Professor Thomas Gaisser, one of the project's lead scientists.

IceCube will provide new information about some of the most violent and far-away astrophysical events in the cosmos, said Gaisser, who is managing the deployment of the telescope's surface array of detectors, known as Ice Top.

The telescope consists of kilometer-long -- 0.62-mile -- strings of 60 optical detectors frozen more than a mile deep in the Antarctic ice, the scientist said. Atop each string of deep detectors is a pair of 600-gallon IceTop tanks, each containing two optical detectors.

The surface IceTop detectors measure cascades of neutrino particles generated by high-energy cosmic rays, while the detectors deep in the ice monitor neutrinos passing up through the planet from below.

The system is designed so scientists can reconstruct the path of the particles and trace where they came from, perhaps an exploding star or a black hole.

The University of Delaware is among 33 institutions contributing to the National Science Foundation project, which is coordinated by the University of Wisconsin.