Source of cosmic ‘ghost’ particle revealed

16 July, 2018, 00:47 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • IceCube neutrinos point to long-sought cosmic ray accelerator

Together with the single event of September 2017, the IceCube data now provides the best experimental evidence to date that active galaxies are in fact sources of high-energy cosmic neutrinos.

An artist's concept of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Finding such a powerful particle, the scientific team of the Observatory alerted about the discovery of all the other astronomers around the world. It was no easy task, as cosmic rays are electrically charged and their route becomes untraceable after numerous contacts with magnetic fields in space.

The leading suspects have always been quasars.

A "blazar" is a supermassive black hole at the center of a faraway galaxy that's shooting energetic jets toward Earth. "Fermi" found near this area of the sky suspected source of this "intergalactic the alien" blazar TXS 0506+056. The term blazar comes partly from BL Lacertae, a starlike object that turned out to be the first of these objects ever recognized.

These observations prove that TXS 056+056 is one of the most luminous sources in the known universe and, thus, add support to a multimessenger observation of a cosmic engine powerful enough to accelerate high-energy cosmic rays and produce the associated neutrinos. Some theorized neutrinos and galactic cosmic rays, beams of high-energy radiation, were produced by the same faraway phenomena.

At the end of September previous year, Halzen and his team found the first hints of the source of these mysterious rays, studying data collected by the IceCube neutrino Observatory, built deep in the ice of the South pole of the Earth.

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The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, details the work of more than 1,000 scientists who pooled their research on the tiny particles, which are able to pass through matter in a straight line - like a ghost. In this process, they've now revealed one more new and a superior way to look at our wide universe.

However, they are extremely hard to measure for this very same reason.

A neutrino is a fermion that interacts only via the weak subatomic force and gravity.

Yet in theory they are all over.

Neutrinos are so small that they seldom bump into atoms so humans can't feel them. Light can be blocked and gravitational waves can be bent, but neutrinos are unscathed as they travel from the most violent events in the universe into a detector at the bottom of the Earth. We know they originate outside our galaxy, but because they are deflected along the way, it's been impossible to trace their source. Even more exciting, reports The Conversation, is that neutrinos had never before been traced back to their source. "But with a neutrino flashlight, it will go through and you can see it on both sides". When a neutrino interacts with an atomic nucleus, it creates a secondary charged particle, which, in turn, produces a characteristic cone of blue light that is detected by IceCube's grid of photomultiplier tubes. One reason, he said, was that the scientists had assumed the sources would be nearby, perhaps even in our own Milky Way galaxy. This blazar is situated in the night sky just off the left shoulder of the constellation Orion and is about four billion light years from Earth. Some of these are called "Oh-My-God particles", because a single particle can smash into the Earth with the force of a 50-plus miles per hour baseball-an object that's more than a trillion trillion times more massive. But, because neutrinos are so small and because atoms are nearly entirely empty space - if the nucleus of an atom were the size of a grape, the electrons would orbit at an average distance of about one mile - such collisions are rare. Which means it had been produced by a proton that had been a booster to that energy, almost 50 times the energy delivered by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the biggest particle accelerator on Earth. "Which is of course bigger than the Large Hadron Collider at Cern", laughs Prof Karle.

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