IceCube detects first high-energy neutrinos from the cosmos

Brussels, 22 November 2013: World’s largest particle detector opens up a new branch of astronomy

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Scientists have observed the first solid evidence for high-energy neutrinos coming from cosmic accelerators beyond our own solar system. Between May 2010 and May 2012 the IceCube detector at the South Pole captured a total of 28 neutrinos with energies greater than 30 teraelectronvolts (TeV). Two of the neutrinos had an energy of more than 1,000 TeV compressed into a single elementary particle. The international IceCube collaboration, in which the IIHE(ULB-VUB) is a main partner, now presents these observations in the current cover story of the scientific journal Science.

“This is the first indication of very high-energy neutrinos coming from outside our solar system,” says Francis Halzen, principal investigator of IceCube and the Hilldale and Gregory Breit Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It is gratifying to finally see what we have been looking for. This is the dawn of a new age of astronomy.”

Because they rarely interact with matter, the nearly massless subatomic particles called neutrinos can carry information about the workings of the highest-energy and most distant phenomena in the universe. Billions of neutrinos pass through every square centimeter of the Earth every second, but the vast majority originate either in the sun or in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Far rarer are neutrinos from the outer reaches of our galaxy or beyond, which have long been theorized to provide insights into the powerful cosmic objects where high-energy cosmic rays may originate: supernovas, black holes, pulsars, active galactic nuclei and other extreme extragalactic phenomena.

IceCube is run by the international IceCube Collaboration, consisting of 260 collaborators in 11 countries, with headquarters at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC) at UW–Madison. It was designed to accomplish two major scientific goals: measure the flux, or rate, of high-energy neutrinos and try to identify some of their sources. “The success of IceCube builds on the efforts of hundreds of people around the world,” says Collaboration spokesperson Olga Botner, from Uppsala University.

Four Belgian universities contributed to the construction of IceCube and take part in the operation of the detector and the data analysis. At the IIHE (ULB-VUB) the IceCube team consists of about 20 physicists, engineers and IT experts. You can meet them here. This team concentrates its efforts on the search for high-energy neutrinos from Gamma Ray bursts and Active Galactic Nuclei, as well as on the search for neutrino signals from dark matter annihilation in the solar system and the observation of neutrinos from SuperNovae. The team also exploits a large computer cluster for the data analysis and the production of simulated events.

More information

Reference: “Evidence for High-Energy Extraterrestrial Neutrinos at the IceCube Detector”; The IceCube Collaboration; Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1126/science.1242856

IceCube webpage and photographic material

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The Interuniversity Institute for High Energies, IIHE (ULB-VUB), was created in 1972 at the initiative of the academic authorities of both the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Its main topic of research is the physics of elementary particles. The present research programme is based on the extensive use of the high energy particle accelerators and experimental facilities at CERN (Switzerland) and DESY (Germany) as well as on non-accelerator experiments at the South Pole. The main goal of this experiments is the study of the strong, electromagnetic and weak interactions of the most elementary building blocks of matter. All these experiments are performed in the framework of large international collaborations and have led to important R&D activities and/or applications concerning particle detectors and computing and networking systems.
Research at the IIHE is mainly funded by Belgian national and regional agencies, in particular the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) en het Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (FWO) and by both universities through their Research Councils.
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