COLLEGE PARK, Md., Aug. 31 (UPI) — After two decades of planning and construction, the world’s largest neutrino observatory, beneath arctic ice, will open in December, scientists say.
Dubbed IceCube, it holds 5,160 optical sensors in a cube whose sides measure more than 1,000 yards, making it an order of magnitude larger than other neutrino detectors, an American Institute of Physics release said Tuesday.
The Superkamiokande detector in the Japanese Alps, for example, is only 44 yards on a side.
The goal of the world’s neutrino observatories is simple: find the source of cosmic rays.
“Almost a century after their discovery, we do not know from where the most energetic particles to hit the Earth originate and how they acquire their incredible energies,” Francis Halzen, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says.
High-energy neutrinos are formed in the universe’s most violent events, like exploding stars and Gamma ray bursts.
With no electric charge and essentially no mass, trillions of neutrinos pass through the Earth and everything on it without effect.
On extremely rare occasions, a neutrino will strike the nucleus of an atom, creating a particle, called a muon, and a blue light that can be detected with optical sensors.
The trick is spying those rare collisions of high-energy neutrinos.
IceCube hopes to do it by sheer virtue of its size.
“IceCube has been totally optimized for size in order to be sensitive to the very small neutrino fluxes that may reveal the sources of cosmic rays and the particle nature of dark matter,” Halzen says.
Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.