IceCube: a new era of astronomy

IceCube, neutrino, detector, Antarctic

In an underground lair worthy of a Bond villain, the IceCube neutrino detector sits beneath 1,500 metres (4,920 feet) of Antarctic ice. At this depth, the crushing pressure has squeezed any air bubbles out of the ice and no light shines through. This makes it the ideal hunting ground for high-energy neutrinos – cosmic messengers produced in violent cosmic events. With no charge and almost no mass, these ghostly particles travel through space unhindered, carrying information about the cosmos. To intercept neutrinos, scientists buried thousands of detectors, keeping watch over a cubic kilometre (0.24 cubic miles) of ice. When a neutrino passes through and interacts weakly with the ice, it produces other particles which can be spotted by IceCube’s photomultiplier tubes. After two years of searching, IceCube recently spotted 28 high-energy neutrinos. This discovery confirms scientists’ hopes that neutrinos can be studied on Earth. By tracing their origins, they hope to learn about gamma-ray bursts, black holes and other events millions or even billions of light years away.