World largest ice embedded telescope coming up at Antarctica

December 10th, 2008 - 2:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 10 (IANS) An international team is building the world’s largest neutrino telescope in the Antarctic, deep beneath the continent’s snow-covered surface.Dubbed “IceCube”, the telescope will occupy a cubic kilometre of Antarctica when it is completed in 2011, opening super-sensitive new eyes into the heavens.

“IceCube will provide new information about some of the most violent and far-away astrophysical events in the cosmos,” said Thomas Gaisser, professor of Physics and Astronomy University of Delaware (U-D), and one of the project’s lead scientists.

U-D is among 33 institutions worldwide that are contributing to the National Science Foundation project, which is coordinated by the University of Wisconsin, said a Delaware release, written by Tracey Bryant.

Besides taking a turn as “on-ice lead” for this year’s IceCube construction effort at the South Pole (or simply “Pole”, as the locals call it), Gaisser is managing the university’s continued deployment of the telescope’s surface array of detectors, known as “IceTop”.

Rather than a giant lens aimed at the heavens, the IceCube telescope consists of kilometre-long strings of 60 optical detectors frozen more than a mile deep in the Antarctic ice like beads on a necklace. Atop each string of deep detectors sits a pair of 600-gallon IceTop tanks, each containing two optical detectors.

Ironically, it takes about seven weeks for the water in the IceTop tanks to freeze perfectly, without bubbles or cracks, which could obstruct the tiny flash that occurs when particles pass through the ice.

Neutrinos are among the most fundamental constituents of matter. Because they have no electrical charge and interact only weakly, these particles can travel millions of miles through space.

Neutrinos can pass right through planets, and they can emerge from deep inside regions of intense radiation such as the accretion disk around a massive black hole.

The surface IceTop detectors measure cascades of particles generated by high-energy cosmic rays showered down from above, while the detectors deep in the ice monitor neutrinos passing up through the planet from below.

When a flash of light is detected, the information is relayed to the nearby IceCube Lab, where the path of the particle can be reconstructed and scientists can trace where it came from, perhaps an exploding star or a black hole.

A drill camp supports each season of the IceCube project in the 24-hour daylight of the Antarctic summer. Drilling is a 24/7 operation with three shifts of drillers.

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