Scientists are using the world’s biggest telescope, buried deep under the South Pole, to try to unravel the mysteries of tiny particles known as neutrinos, hoping to shed light on how the universe was made.
The mega-detector, called IceCube, took 10 years to build 2,400 meters below the Antarctic ice. At one cubic km, it is bigger than the Empire State building, the Chicago Sears Tower – now known as Willis Tower – and Shanghai’s World Financial Center combined.
Designed to observe neutrinos, which are emitted by exploding stars and move close to the speed of light, the telescope is attracting new attention in the wake of last week’s discovery of a particle that appears to be the Higgs boson – a basic building block of the universe.
“You hold up your finger and a hundred billion neutrinos pass through it every second from the sun,” said Jenni Adams, a physicist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, who works on IceCube.
This is a very cool telescope, built right out of the Earth just like a mad scientist or evil villain would want it. As we have talked about before, most neutrinos pass through us (and the Earth) without interacting with anything. By using enormous detecting tubes to look for these neutrino events (maybe sensing only one every 20 minutes) and the particular glowing radiation they give off in water, IceCube can trace and analyze how these mysterious particles interact with Earth, when they rarely do. By tracing the path where neutrinos originate, we could discover astronomical sources in deep space.
This isn’t usually the case when it comes to high-energy physics, but the Wikipedia page for the IceCube detector is pretty good. Check it out.
Finally, this is clearly how physics is done on Hoth.