Ghostly Subatomic Particle Traced Back to Its Origins for the First Time

For the first time, scientists have been able to trace the origins of a ghostly subatomic particle that traveled 3.7 billion light-years to Earth. The tiny, high-energy cosmic particle is called a neutrino, and it was found by sensors deep in the Antarctic ice in the IceCube detector.

Scientists and observatories around the world were able to trace the neutrino to a galaxy with a supermassive, rapidly spinning black hole at its center, known as a blazar. The galaxy sits to the left of Orion’s shoulder in his constellation and is about 4 billion light-years from Earth.

Scientists say the discovery heralds a new era of space research, allowing the use of these particles to study and observe the universe in an unprecedented way. And the finding suggests that scientists will be able to track the origin of mysterious cosmic rays for the first time.

“This identification launches the new field of high-energy neutrino astronomy, which we expect will yield exciting breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe and fundamental physics, including how and where these ultra-high-energy particles are produced,” Doug Cowen, a founding member of the IceCube collaboration and Penn State University professor of physics and astronomy and astrophysics, said in a statement. “For 20 years, one of our dreams as a collaboration was to identify the sources of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, and it looks like we’ve finally done it!”

The findings were published in two studies in the journal Science on Thursday. One study includes the detection of the neutrino, and the follow-up study determined that this blazar had produced neutrinos in multiple bursts before in 2014 and 2015.

A combination of observations and data across the electromagnetic spectrum, provided by observatories on Earth and in space, makes this a prime example of how “multimessenger” astronomy is helping make discoveries possible. Multimessenger astronomy also contributed to the discovery of the neutron star collision that created light, gravitational waves and gold in October.

“The era of multimessenger astrophysics is here,” US National Science Foundation Director France Córdova said in a statement. “Each messenger — from electromagnetic radiation, gravitational waves and now neutrinos — gives us a more complete understanding of the universe, and important new insights into the most powerful objects and events in the sky. Such breakthroughs are only possible through a long-term commitment to fundamental research and investment in superb research facilities.”

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SOURCE: CNN, Ashley Strickland