Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Tracking the Cosmos Via Crystal Clear Blue Ice

ICE CUBE neutrino array suspended in the Antarctica Ice Cap

The Wall Street Journal reported today that a new scientific instrument, called the Ice Cube, is under construction at the South Pole. The $271 million observatory built into the Antarctica ice cap is pointed towards the earth and utilizes it as a screen to stop all particles excepting neutrinos. Ice Cube is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Neutrinos are almost without mass, have no electric charge and thus can pass through matter "like a hot knife through butter." This means that neutrinos are not affected by gravity or radiation. Hence in theory they can be traced backwards to image the universe in a way that visible light and other forms of radiation cannot achieve. The trick is to see them.

Holes are being melted in the ice cap to a depth of one mile or more. Strings of spherical glass sensors are being hung down the holes like Christmas tree lights - there to freeze in place. Over 5,000 sensors are being suspended in a quarter cubic mile of pure Antarctic ice. The water in this ice is so pure than these sensors can pick up the tell tale miniscule flash of blue light emitted when a neutrino hits a water molecule from several hundred yards away.

The exciting mystery is that no one really knows what these neutrino images of the cosmos will look like.

Richard Wottrich

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