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Ghostly particle neutrino has its source uncovered and analysed, insight by Janet Conrad

Jul 14, 2018, 11:30 am

Neutrino is an elementary or fundamental particle, or original or basic particle that’s not made of other particles, but a much weaker one than the other of its kinds in terms of interacting with ordinary matter, which actually earns it the tag ‘ghostly particle.’

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station detected one neutrino signal deep in Antarctic ice on September 22, 2017. In pursuit of its cosmic source via alerts sent to telescopes, it was found that the neutrino originated from a blazar.

This balazar is ‘an active galaxy with a black hole at its center about 3.7 billion light years away’ from earth. Astronomers have tagged it as TXS 0506+056 and it can be seen in the night sky just by the Orion constellation!

Reports of the discovery were published yesterday, July 13 in Science journal, representing a first-of-its-kind discovery, and letting scientists uncover mysteries of neutrinos. One of the conclusions is that blazars are capable of producing neutrinos that can reach earth crossing billions of light years!

MIT’s physics professor and member of the IceCube Collaboration Janet Conrad, who is a co-author of both published papers, threw light on the journey of over 300 scientists from across the globe to uncover mysteries of the ascendingly energetic neutrinos and their sources.

She talked about how IceCube carried out the entire operation of the discovery, the journey of the neutrinos or the findings from the observations, and the significance of the discovery that are useful to astrophysics and particle physics.

IceCube is literally gigatons of ice instrumented with detectors that can observe light. These detectors are located about a mile below the ice. It took us about five years to learn how to analyze the data quickly enough to be able to send alerts to other telescopes that look for electromagnetic signals. We can now do this in about one minute. – Janet Conrad, MIT’s physics professor and member of the IceCube Collaboration

Regarding the neutrinos’ journey, she says that the magnetic fields of the earth and the blazar will not inspire neutrinos to affect the earth’s surface. Due to their weak interactive abilities, they won’t be absorbed by the earth’s dust. However, this wasn’t the first time that neutrinos were generated from blazar, and the year 2014 saw multiple such events.

As for the significance, neutrinos despite being weak in interactions, are known to ‘do very interesting things along their path.’ They are produced in one of three flavor types, and they even change flavors in their travels, thanks to neutrino oscillations that’s a quantum mechanical effect. This opens a vast new world of potential discoveries in particle physics and astrophysics.

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