Scientists discover source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos for the first time


The key observations were made at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at a USA scientific research station at the South Pole and then confirmed by land-based and orbiting telescopes.

Ultimately, the team concluded that there are other blazars out in the space, and these active galaxies are the main sources of high-energy cosmic neutrinos.

The researchers confirmed that apart from neutrinos, gamma rays are partially produced by high-energy protons in the jets of supermassive black holes. Despite being some of the most abundant particles in the Universe, with nearly 100 000 billion passing through our bodies every second, these electrically neutral, subatomic particles are notoriously hard to detect because they interact with matter incredibly rarely. "More than a century after the discovery of cosmic rays by Victor Hess in 1912, the IceCube findings have therefore for the first time located a concrete extragalactic source of these high-energy particles".

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The IceCube collaboration, on September 22, 2017, detected an ultra-high-energy neutrino that arrived at the South Pole and was able to identify its source. They discovered it had been generated by something called a "blazar"-these are "intensely bright galaxies harboring a black hole at the center", a Swedish physicist involved in the study tells NPR-a mere 4 billion light-years from Earth". Luckily, the powerful cosmic accelerators that produce them also emit neutrinos, which are uncharged and unaffected by even the most powerful magnetic fields. They have the lowest known mass of any elementary particle, are electrically neutral, and only interact weakly with other matter. Into these holes they lowered 5160 light sensors, spread out over a total volume of one cubic kilometre. She says: "Seeing gamma-rays with MAGIC at the same time as the neutrino is an important piece of evidence suggesting that these were both made by processes in the blazar jet". "These very high energy neutrinos are more likely to interact" with matter, she said, "but they deposit so much energy in a detector that in order to contain and detect all that energy, the detector has to be very large".

That independent observation greatly strengthens the initial detection of a single, high-energy neutrino and adds to a growing body of data that indicates that the blazar is the first known source of high-energy neutrinos and high-energy cosmic rays. This neutrino held the similar amount of energy as 300 trillion electron volts.

Blazars are especially bright and active because one of these jets happens to point nearly directly toward Earth.

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Blazars are probably not the only sources for high-energy neutrinos or high-energy cosmic rays, Prof.

To confirm that TXS 0506+056 was indeed the source of the single energetic neutrino detected in September, Botner and her colleagues went back through almost a decade of data IceCube had collected. The IceCube researchers searched through their data from the past years for possible previous measurements of neutrinos coming from the direction of the blazar that had now been identified.

Not only that, but as neutrinos travel practically unhindered through the vastness of space (unlike other particles, neutrinos only interact via the weak nuclear force) they have the potential to map the sky like astronomers now do with light at differing wavelengths, but at higher energies.

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"Fermi's LAT monitors the entire sky in gamma rays and keeps tabs on the activity of some 2,000 blazars, yet TXS 0506 really stood out", explained NASA Postdoctoral Fellow Sara Buson. "And gee, I wonder what we can see if we use this whole different way to look at the universe".