In the famous words of “Star Trek”, Antarctica is for many “the final frontier”. The science of this frozen continent is no less interesting…
IceCube is a one kilometer square structure buried 2.500 meters below the Antarctic ice to detect elusive neutrinos –sub-atomic particles with no charge and very little mass that bombard us from space, e.g. from the Sun. After many years of research, an international group of around 300 scientists from 12 countries have reported in Science the detection, for the first time, of high-energy neutrinos from -it appears- beyond the Milky Way. IceCube’s lead researcher Francis Halzen says that it “is very gratifying to finally see what we have been searching for. We are at the start of a new era for astronomy”. Not very important then!
Neutrinos may be produced by several causes and from various sources, both from space and within our atmosphere or even in Geneva’s CERN particle accelerator. For example, in 1987 neutrinos were detected from a supernova –the explosion and death of a star. The authors say that, although only a small number of neutrinos objectively speaking have been detected –just a few dozen- it is interesting to note their high energy, which is up to 1 billion times greater than that of neutrinos from the supernova explosion or the Sun. IceCube therefore offers a vital tool for a new era of space exploration.
IceCube consists of a frozen surface into which 87 shafts have been drilled down a number of kilometers. Neutrino detectors are deployed throughout these shafts, and have measured energy from 30 million to 1 billion MeV. Astonishing! And just as astonishing as the names given to some of the neutrinos… Bert and Ernie. No comment.
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José Antonio López Guerrero (JAL)
Tenured professor of microbiology at the UAM. Researcher and director of scientific culture at the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Centre.