School of Physics and Astronomy

IceCube observes neutrinos from a cosmic monster

Congratulations to the team of researchers who have used the IceCube detector to observe for the first time a cosmic source of high-energy neutrinos identified as a distant blazar — a major new example of multimessenger astronomy.

13 July 2018

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QMUL is an associate member of the consortium that runs the IceCube neutrino detector in Antarctica; scientists in the School of Physics and Astronomy are involved in the analysis of IceCube data as well as preparing for the next-generation upgrade of the detector, IceCube-Gen2.

Meanwhile, IceCube is making observations of neutrinos — ghostly particles that interact only very weakly with other forms of matter — from sources that include the Sun and cosmic ray particles interacting with the Earth’s atmosphere. This latest observation for the first time identifies a source of neutrinos with an object billions of light-years away known as a blazar — a giant elliptical galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its centre that is the power source of an active nucleus. From the region around the black hole, elementary particles are squirted out at very high energy in the form of opposing jets, rather like twin lighthouse beams. In the case of a blazar, one of the jets is pointing directly towards the Earth, so we are looking right down the monster’s throat.

The blazar’s jet also produces neutrinos and it is one (yes, one!) of these that the IceCube detector has observed. By matching the observation of the neutrino with observations of gamma-rays coming from the blazar — known as TXS 0506+056 — it has been possible to confirm that the blazar is indeed a source of high-energy neutrinos, as predicted by our models of active galactic nuclei.

This is another example of the new science of “multimessenger” astronomy, which aims to study cosmic objects by detecting not only the electromagnetic radiation (light) that they produce, but also other messengers carrying information about the source — neutrinos or gravitational waves.

Further details can be found here.

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Image credit:  Felipe Pedreros, IceCube/NSF