Astronomers track neutrino from galaxy 3.7 billion light years away


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Using multiple telescopes astronomers have successfully tracked the source of a neutrino that was detected on September 22 2017 by the IceCube neutrino telescope in Antarctica to a galaxy 3.7 billion light years away.

Because scientists on the IceCube experiment had worked out the path the particle took through their subterranean ice instrument, astronomers knew where in the sky to look for the particle’s source. A string of early observations came up blank, but days later Nasa’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope spotted the likely source: a flaring “blazar”.

Most galaxies are thought to have spinning supermassive black holes at their centres. But some of these black holes appear to pull in material at ferocious rates, a process that simultaneously sends streams of highly energetic particles out into space. Such galaxies are called blazars, although the term only applies when one of these streams is directed straight at Earth.

The blazar that appears to have sent the neutrino our way lies 3.7bn light years from Earth, just off the left shoulder of the constellation of Orion. While a single detection is not strong evidence, the IceCube scientists went back through their records and found a flurry of neutrinos coming from the same spot over 150 days in 2014 and 2015.

This I think is the first time scientists have linked a neutrino to its source, outside our solar system. Most neutrino detections come from the Sun. That they could trace this one back to a blazar so far away means their neutrino telescopes are now becoming sensitive enough to find and study the neutrinos coming from other sources.

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3 comments

  • Orion314

    One of the things i learned so long ago about the ‘Scientific Method”
    If you can’t test , analyze, repeat the results independently, it’s not science, Like this “neutrinos proven”, like CERN, Higgs Boson proven? bah….

  • Localfluff

    Since they found a flurry, there is a chance one will actually be able to say something about how Blazars’ activity (or orientation) is changing over time. How it correlates with observations of light from the same source. Tuning in the universe in yet another domain. If blazars are binary super massive black holes in merging galaxies, one day such a source might be observed in the domain of gravitational waves too, maybe making it possible to confirm that a bunch of different physics are consistent with each other.

    Btw, is it Orion’s left or our left? Oh I see, Orion is standing with his back towards us, so it is the same.

  • wayne

    “Hunting the elusive neutrino with IceCube”
    University of Canterbury, October, 2016
    https://youtu.be/91FQGcZWW3w
    (43:25)

    The last 15 minutes or so, really gets into the fine-resolution nuance of what is actually being detected and where they originate. (and how they differentiate them)
    “Atmospheric source neutrinos” get created when cosmic rays strike the atmosphere. Concurrently, our Sun is generating neutrinos itself, and the 3rd category are the ones they want to detect; neutrinos produced close to their source and then which travel long distances.

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