Neutrino trackers solve a cosmic ray puzzle

Blazar and neutrino
In this artistic rendering, a blazar is accelerating protons that produce pions, which produce neutrinos and gamma rays. One neutrino’s path is represented by a blue line passing through Antarctica, while a gamma ray’s path is shown in pink. (IceCube / NASA Illustration)

An array of detectors buried under a half-mile-wide stretch of Antarctic ice has traced the path of a single neutrino back to a supermassive black hole in a faraway galaxy, shedding light on a century-old cosmic ray mystery in the process.

The discovery, revealed today in a flurry of research papers published by the journal Science and The Astrophysical Journal, marks a milestone for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

It also marks a milestone for an observational frontier known as multi-messenger astrophysics, which takes advantage of multiple observatories looking at the sky in different ways. Thanks to IceCube’s alert, more than a dozen telescopes were able to triangulate on the neutrino’s source.

“No one telescope could have done this by themselves,” said IceCube lead scientist Francis Halzen, a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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