Astronomers May Have Detected the First-Ever Neutrino From Outside Our Galaxy

April 22, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Neutrino illustration
Photo credit: Sven Lidstrom, NASA/ IceCube Collaboration

The discovery could lead to a new era in astrophysics!

An international team of researchers have spotted the first ever high-energy neutrino collision from a source outside our Milky Way.

Neutrinos are considered one of the fundamental particles in the universe and have baffled physicists for ages. They are thought of as ghostly particles, passing through Earth continuously, almost unnoticed. Neutrinos are massless particles, containing no charge, therefore they very rarely interact with other forms of matter.

The only exception is when neutrinos collide with other particles head on. Only then are scientists able to capture the brief flashes of light these collisions emit, confirming the existence of neutrinos. And this is exactly what researchers at the Icecube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica are trying to detect — these very rare collisions that emit brief flashes of light.

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Most neutrinos originate from either our sun or from cosmic rays striking our atmosphere. In 2012, researchers at Icecube detected one of the most powerful high-energy neutrino collisions ever recorded at two petavolts. Following their discovery, the team used the data from radio telescopes to track where the neutrino originated.

Now, the researchers are able to confirm that the neutrino collision came from PKS B1424-418, a blazar galaxy containing a supermassive black hole at it center. Astronomers have been observing the galaxy since 2011. During their observations they detected that PKS B1424-418 had changed shape between 2011 and 2014 and that it was spewing outbursts of matter and light towards Earth.

‘The outburst of PKS B1424–418 provides an energy output high enough to explain the observed petaelectronvolt event, suggestive of a direct physical association,’ the study explained. If all holds true, this would be the first ever high-energy neutrino collision tracked to a source from outside of our Milky Way.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Physics.

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