About 47 million light-years from where you sit, the center of a black hole galaxy called NGC 1068 is spewing streams of enigmatic particles. These “neutrinos”, otherwise known as “ghost particles”, populate our world but leave little trace of their existence.
Immediately after their emergence, bundles of these invisible bits plunge across the cosmic expanse. We are looking for bright stars, we can see them and in addition to picking up pockets of space we have yet to discover amazing batteries. They fly and fly and sometimes as they fly, they hit a detector deep below the surface of the earth.
Neutrinos travel is seamless. But the scholars wait patiently for them to come.
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory lies in about 1 billion tons of ice, more than 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) below Antarctica. You might call it a neutrino hunter. When some neutrinos transfer their parts to the cold continent, the IceCube is ready.
In a paper published Friday in the journal Science, an international team confirmed after this ambitious experiment found evidence of 79 “high neutrino emissions” coming from around where NGC 1068 is located, opening the door to a new – and endlessly fascinating. — Types of physics. Scientists call it “neutrino astronomy”.
It will be a branch of astronomy that can do what simply existing branches cannot.
Before today, physicists showed that neutrinos only come from both suns; our planet’s atmosphere; A chemical mechanism called radioactive decay; supernovae; and — thanks to IceCube’s first breakthrough in 2017 — a blazar, or voracious supermassive black hole pointed directly toward Earth. Empty term TXS 0506+056.
With the discovery of this new neutrino source, we are entering a new era of the particle story. In fact, according to the research team, it is likely that the neutrinos originating from NGC 1068 have up to millions, billions, maybe even trillions amount of energy through neutrinos rooted in the sun or supernovae. Those are jaw-dropping figures, because in general such thin bits are so strong, but dubious, that every second trillions of trillions of neutrinos move right through your body. You can’t say.
And if you want to stop the neutrino in its tracks, you will need to fight with the lead trunk for a year – although even then, there will be a broken chance of success. So connecting these particles, NCG version 1068 or not, could allow us to explore cosmos environments that usually lie aloof.
Not only is this important because it gives us more evidence of a strange particle that didn’t exist until 1956, but also because neutrinos are like keys to the scene of our universe.
They hold the ability to reveal phenomena and solve problems we can’t address in any other way, which is the primary reason scientists try to develop neutrino astronomy in the first place.
“The role of communicating with us has several ways,” Denise Caldwell of the National Science Foundation and member of the IceCube team told reporters on Thursday. “Electromagnetic radiation, which we see as light from stars, gravitational waves that shake the fabric of space – and elementary particles such as protons, neutrons and electrons eject from local sources.
“One of these elementary particles was neutrinos permeating the universe, but unfortunately, neutrinos are very difficult to detect.”
In fact, even galaxy NGC 1068 and its gargantuan black hole are typically obscured by a dense veil of dust and gas, making them difficult for standard telescopes and optical instruments to parse—despite years of scientists trying to pierce its veil. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope might have a leg up on this case because of its infrared eyes, but neutrinos may be a better way.
Expected to be born to filter through the opaque veils of our universe, these particles can carry cosmic information behind those veils, zoom across great distances without interacting with any other matter, and deliver pristine, untouched information to humanity from the remote corners of outer space.
“We are very lucky, in a sense, because we can access an amazing understanding of this object,” Elisa Resconi, of the Technical University of Munich and the IceCube team, said of NGC 1068.
It is also notable that there are more (many) galaxies like NGC 1068 — a type of Seyfert galaxy — than the blazar-like TXS 0506+056. This means that the latest discovery of IceCube is, arguably, a bigger step for neutrino astronomers than the seminal observatory.
The amount of neutrinos scattered throughout the universe is rooted in NGC 1068’s doppelganger. But in the grand scheme of things, there is far more merit to neutrinos than their sources.
These ghosts, as Justin Vandenbrouck of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his partner IceCube have put it, are capable of solving two major mysteries in astronomy.
First, the wealth of galaxies in our world is vacated by giant centers of gravity, black holes reaching masses millions to billions more than our sun. And these black holes, when active, burst a blast of light from their bowels, emitting enough light to outshine every single star in the galaxy itself. “We don’t understand how it happens,” Vandenbrouke said simply. Neutrinos could explore the path of regions around black holes.
The second general, but persistent, conundrum of cosmic rays.
We don’t know where cosmic rays originate from each other, but these strings of particles reach into each other and reach millions of times more than we can here on Earth with human-built particle accelerators like at CERN.
“We think neutrinos play some role,” Vandenbroucke said. “Something that can help us solve these two mysteries of black holes, the most famous galaxies and the origin of cosmic rays.”
Take the boxer for a decade
To be clear, IceCube does not exactly trap neutrinos.
Basically, this observatory learns how often a neutrino occurs when it is covered with ice. “Neutrinos barely interact with matter,” Vandenbrouke emphasized. “But sometimes I don’t understand.”
When millions of neutrinos hit the icy region where the IceCube is erected, at least one tends to bump into the ice atom, which then breaks and creates a flicker of light. IceCube’s sensors pick up those flashes and send a signal to the surface, notifications that are then analyzed by hundreds of scientists.
Ten years of light-enhanced flashing allowed the team to describe a large paper where every neutrino appears to come from the sky. It soon became clear that the region of dense neutrino emission was precisely where the galaxy NGC 1068 was located.
But even with such evidence, Resconi said that the team knew that “it is not time to open the champagne, because we still have one fundamental question to answer. How often does this happen at night? How can we be sure that neutrinos are actually coming from an object?”
So, to make things as concrete as possible, and to really, really prove that this galaxy is spitting out spectra, “We generated 100 million of the same experiment,” Resconi said.
Upon which, except as I think, a bottle of Veuve finally popped up. Although the hunt is not over.
“We are only beginning to scratch the surface to find new sources of neutrinos,” said Ignacio Taboada of the Georgia Institute of Technology and IceCube member. “There must be many other sources far deeper than NGC 1068, hidden somewhere.”
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