Buried more than two kilometres deep in the ice under the South Pole, the IceCube neutrino detector seems like an unlikely place to find a window to the universe.
Since 2010 it has been searching for the faint signals of extra-solar neutrinos — subatomic particles that fly through space, generated by an as yet unknown source.
The IceCube research team, which includes several New Zealanders, has now for the first time detected neutrinos from outside of our solar system.
Their research published in the journal Science details the observation of 28 very high-energy particle events that constitute the first solid evidence for astrophysical neutrinos from cosmic sources.
Billions of neutrinos pass through every square centimeter of the Earth every second, but the vast majority originate either in the sun or in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Far rarer are neutrinos from the outer reaches of our galaxy or beyond, which have long been theorised to provide insights into the powerful cosmic objects where high-energy cosmic rays may originate: supernovas, black holes, pulsars, active galactic nuclei and other extreme extragalactic phenomena.
“This is the first indication of very high-energy neutrinos coming from outside our solar system,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison Physics Professor Francis Halzen, principal investigator of IceCube. “It is gratifying to finally see what we have been looking for. This is the dawn of a new age of astronomy.”