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High Energy Neutrinos: Extraterrestrial?

High Energy Neutrinos: Extraterrestrial?

Neutrinos discovered that are not from the earth’s atmosphere.

image of a neutrino

Researchers at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the University of Madison-Wisconsin have made an eye opening discovery involving neutrinos with a level of energy far greater than any ever created by a human-made accelerator.  In fact, these neutrinos do not appear to be from the earth’s atmosphere at all, which means they could come from powerful cosmic events such as gamma ray bursts, black holes, or  the formation of a star.

The 28 high energy neutrinos were detected over the past 2 years by a giant telescope in the Antarctic ice which measured at least 2 of them at more than 1 petaelectronvolt (PEV).  Their discovery was considered as one of the main goals of the National Science Foundation supported project, and has neutrino fans around the world buzzing over what their origin might be.

Billions of neutrinos pass through the earth at any given second, but a majority of those come from the sun or the Earth’s atmosphere.   These more powerful neutrinos, according to post-doc fellow and member of the IceCube team Nathan Whitehorn, have properties that are “strongly inconsistent with what you would expect of atmospheric sources and are almost exactly what you would expect from an astrophysical source.”

The last time there was this much excitement over a particle discovery was in 1991 when the Oh My God particle was detected in Utah. Estimated to have travelled at or close to the speed of light, this ultra high energy cosmic ray was measured at 300000 PeV.  However, the advantage of high energy neutrinos (or neutrinos in general) over particles like the OMG is that they easily pass through most matter and their energy is not affected by gravity.

Are they extraterrestrial? That question remains to be answered. Are they something rare and exciting? The answer is already- yes.

Source: University of Madison-Wisconsin

Photo: US Embassy New Zealand / flickr

studies on neutrinos, where are neutrinos generated

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