It is the start of the final Antarctic drilling season for IceCube, and as researchers descend on the South Pole, there is additional reason for celebration. The National Science Foundation has signed a five-year, $34.5-million agreement with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to operate the unique IceCube telescope - a cubic kilometre in volume - buried in the Antarctic ice sheet between 1,400 metres and 2,400 metres deep.
Tiny flashes of blue light from 1,400 metres beneath the icy South Pole could help scientists uncover the origins of cosmic rays and neutrinos.These flashes, which occur when neutrinos created by cosmic rays strike ice atoms, are being detected by IceCube: a 'telescope' made up of thousands of optical sensors buried deep in the Antarctic ice. This chilly location is ideal because the ice is very clear, as it's free of air bubbles and other distortions.
For the past ten years scientists have been planning and building an ambitious experiment to explain the mystery of what produces the cosmic rays and elusive particles known as neutrinos, which constantly pepper our planet.They have buried thousands of sensors more than a mile below the surface of Antarctica's ice cap to record fleeting flashes of blue light that are given off when these high energy particles and rays collide with atoms in the ice.
The sweltering Wisconsin summer is a far cry from conditions at the South Pole, but ice drillers from around the United States will gather next week in Stoughton to prepare for the upcoming Antarctic work season.The IceCube neutrino detector, under construction at the South Pole since 2004, is on track to be completed this winter. In anticipation of the final work season, drillers and installers will review plans and practice safety procedures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Physical Sciences Laboratory (PSL), which features a test bed with components of the South Pole drilling site. IceCube staff use the test bed to run new equipment and train drillers and installers.
Though still under construction, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole is already delivering scientific results - including an early finding about a phenomenon the telescope was not even designed to study.IceCube captures signals of notoriously elusive but scientifically fascinating subatomic particles called neutrinos. The telescope focuses on high-energy neutrinos that travel through the Earth, providing information about faraway cosmic events such as supernovas and black holes in the part of space visible from the Northern Hemisphere.
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Credit IceCube collaboration, UW-Madison
This "skymap," generated in 2009 from data collected by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, shows the relative intensity of cosmic rays directed toward the Earth's Southern Hemisphere. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and elsewhere identified an unusual pattern of cosmic rays, with an excess (warmer colours) detected in one part of the sky and a deficit (cooler colours) in another. A similar lopsidedness, called "anisotropy," has been seen from the Northern Hemisphere by previous experiments, but its source is still a mystery. Possible explanations include the remains of an exploded supernova, such as the nearby supernova remnant Vela located near the red hotspot seen in the skymap, or the interstellar magnetic fields near Earth.
The construction of the world's largest telescope, worth $271 million, will be completed in 2011, Russian space agency Roscosmos said
Buried two kilometres under solid ice on one of the coldest continents on Earth, Analog Devices' data converters and amplifiers are helping scientists at the South Pole build the world's largest telescope to search for the smallest subatomic particles known to humankind.The innovative "underground" telescope project is called IceCube and uses a cubic kilometre of pure, ultra-translucent ice at the South Pole as a telescopic "window" or particle detector to search the universe for its smallest known particles, called neutrinos. Neutrinos are subatomic particles that lack an electric charge produced by the decay of radioactive elements and elementary particles. Neutrinos travel at near the speed of light and are so tiny that they can typically pass through solid matter without colliding with any atoms. However when neutrinos collide with an atom, light energy is emitted that can help detect the presence and direction of these sub-atomic particles.