Published: Mon, July 16, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

High-energy "ghost particle" reveals birthplace of cosmic rays


Credit: Ben Shappee/IfA The ASAS-SN telescope on Haleakala. In addition, these weird particles may hold the key to some of the biggest mysteries about the universe, including why matter won out over antimatter early after the Big Bang, said.

According to research published Thursday in the journal Science, IceCube sent out alerts to more than a dozen observatories around the globe, directing their attention to the region in the sky where the neutrino was thought to have originated.

One way in which scientists expect energetic neutrinos to be created is as a sort of by-product of cosmic rays, that are expected to be produced in cosmic particle accelerators, such as the vortex of matter created by supermassive black holes or exploding stars. It is the only all-sky, real-time variability survey in existence. "Observing cosmic neutrinos gives us a glimpse of processes that are opaque to electromagnetic radiation", says Klaus Helbing from the Bergische University of Wuppertal, spokesperson for the German IceCube network."Cosmic neutrinos are messengers from the high-energy universe".

He says: "This result heralds a new era for neutrino astronomy, and opens up the long-anticipated linkages with observations using photons or light, such as gamma-rays and radio waves".

Since they were first detected more than one hundred years ago, cosmic rays have posed an enduring mystery: What creates and launches these particles across such vast distances? Where do they come from?

Blazars are the central cores of giant galaxies that host an actively accreting supermassive black-hole at their heart, where matter spiralling in forms a hot, rotating disc that generates enormous amounts of energy, along with a pair of relativistic jets. Quasars are among the most energetic phenomena in the universe and can form relativistic jets where elementary particles are accelerate and launched at almost the speed of light.

This particular galaxy type is known as a blazar, because one of the jets is trained directly towards Earth. This specific type of quasar is called a blazar. The neutral charge of neutrinos instead means they are unaffected by magnetic fields and because they pass nearly entirely through matter, they can be used to trace a straight path all the way back to their source.

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Neutrinos, sometimes called ghost particles, are electrically neutral and almost massless, allowing them to travel through the cosmos for billions of light-years, passing unhindered through galaxies, stars, planets and dust.

These observations prove that TXS 056+056 is one of the most luminous sources in the known universe and, thus, add support to a multimessenger observation of a cosmic engine powerful enough to accelerate high-energy cosmic rays and produce the associated neutrinos.

In this artistic rendering, based on a real image of the IceCube Lab at the South Pole, a distant source emits neutrinos that are detected below the ice by IceCube sensors, called DOMs. They can register tiny flashes of light produced when a neutrino interacts with the transparent ice they are suspended in.

This is the first time scientists have ever detected a neutrino and identified its source.

About 20 observatories on Earth and in space have also participated in this discovery. Concurrently, the Swift and HESS instruments detected signs (e.g., gamma rays) consistent with flaring (the emission of cosmic rays) in TXS 0506+056. These observations are hard, because the blazar jet is much brighter than the host galaxy.

This discovery is exciting for many reasons; not only does it help understand the universe around us and where we come from, but it also is the beginning of an entirely new field of study. "This also emphasizes the critical role that telescopes in Hawaiʻi play in that community", said Shappee.

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