11 May 2013

Discovery goes to the South Pole

The Discovery Center has joined the IceCube Neutrino Observatory  (http://icecube.wisc.edu/) collaboration, which operates perhaps the strangest 'telescope' in the world.

This is a particle detector consisting of an instrumented cubic kilometers of ice 1.5-2.5 km below the surface of the Antarctic icecap, which records high energy neutrinos. IceCube searches for cosmic neutrinos from the most violent astrophysical phenomena in the universe - exploding supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, and black holes accreting matter in the centre's of galaxies - seeking to uncover the sources of the highest energy cosmic rays. IceCube can also detect neutrinos from dark matter particles annihilating in the Sun and elsewhere in the Galaxy. In addition, by studying the background of neutrinos produced in the atmosphere, IceCube can probe the properties of the neutrinos themselves at energies exceeding those produced by terrestrial accelerators.  

Dr Jason Koskinen (of Penn State University) has been appointed Assistant Professor from September, and will be joined by other members of the Discovery Center as well as Discovery Associate Subir Sarkar (who is a longstanding IceCube member), in building up the involvement of NBI with a proposed extension of IceCube

This is the Precision IceCube Next Generation Upgrade (PINGU) which will aim to measure the mass hierarchy of neutrinos and also probe for possible sterile neutrinos. This will require tens of additional 'strings' carrying sensitive photomultipliers to be sunk over the next few years down to the deepest, clearest ice. A previous infill array called DeepCore has already enabled IceCube to detect the conversion of neutrinos from one flavour to another as they cross the Earth, and PINGU will enable these quantum mechanical oscillations to be studied in far more detail. This opens an exciting new direction in the development of the Discovery Center - engagement with astro-particle physics, in addition to particle physics and cosmology.