July 10, 2012

IceCube Telescope Helps Detect Neutrinos

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Scientists will be using IceCube, the world's largest telescope buried under the South Pole, to hunt for neutrinos.

IceCube is bigger than the Empire State building, the Chicago Sears Tower and Shanghai's World Financial Center combined, taking a total of 10 years to build.

The telescope is designed to help scientists understand the mysterious tiny particles known as neutrinos. These particles are emitted by exploding stars and move close to the speed of light.

"You hold up your finger and a hundred billion neutrinos pass through it every second from the sun," Jenni Adams, a physicist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, who works on IceCube, told reporters at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Melbourne.

The telescope is like a string of light detectors buried in the ice through hot water drilling. When neutrinos interact in the ice, they produce charged particles that create light.

The ice is able to help isolate the neutrinos, making them easier to observe.

"If a supernova goes off in our galaxy now, we can detect hundreds of neutrinos with IceCube," Adams told reporters.  "We won't be able to see them individually, but the whole detector will just light up like a massive fireworks display."

Scientists hope to track neutrinos in order to help find their point of origin, which could ultimately help shed light on mysterious dark matter.

Scientists had observed just 14 neutrinos before IceCube was completed back in 2010, but now scientists have used the telescope, along with another one in the Mediterranean, to detect hundreds of neutrinos.