Neutrino-Detecting Telescope Receives Priority EU Funding

A $300-plus million dollar deep sea observatory which will detect high-energy particles bombarding the Earth from outer space has just received priority funding from the European Union (EU), according to a report by Telegraph Science Correspondent Richard Gray.

According to Gray, scientists are hoping that the £210 million ($326 million) Multi-Cubic Kilometre Neutrino Telescope (KM3NeT) will be able to observe trace materials left behind by neutrinos as they pass through our planet.

Work on the telescope’s infrastructure began back in February 2006, according to the KM3NeT website, and the Telegraph reports that a small prototype is currently operational off of the southern coast of France.

The KM3NeT team hopes to begin work on a larger prototype within the next three years, and those aspirations are one step closer to fruition after the project received “the go-ahead by as part of a European road map drawn up by the Astroparticle European Research Area (ASPERA) network of European national funding agencies, including the UK´s STFC,” according to Gray’s report.

The project’s website says that the telescope will be located at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, and will look for neutrinos from such “distant astrophysical sources” as gamma rays, supernovas, or colliding stars. It will also be useful in the search for dark matter, and will use “an array of thousands of optical sensors” to detect faint light in the water that originates from the collision of the neutrinos and the Earth.

KM3NeT will be 3,200 feet below sea level, according to a December article by Rebecca Boyle of Popular Science. The detector itself will be three cubic kilometers in size, and the telescope will consist of 30 underwater towers equipped with more than 37,000 photomultiplier modules. The project had gained the support of 40 different universities or institutes in 10 different countries by the end of 2011, Boyle said.

“It is really going to open a new window on our universe,” the University of Sheffield’s Dr. Lee Thompson, who is working on the KM3NeT project, told Gray on Monday. “Much of what we know about the universe to date has been gleaned from looking at different frequencies within the electromagnetic spectrum such as visible light and X-rays.”

“Using neutrinos to probe the universe is a completely new and fresh idea, so it is going to give us an entirely new perspective,” he added. “There are objects out there that we know are emitting neutrinos but there could be things out there that cannot be seen with the telescopes we currently use.”

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