Saturday, July 20, 2024

UC eyes depths of a cosmic monster

Researchers at the University of Canterbury are part of an international team of scientists which has found high-energy neutrinos coming from a nearby active galaxy called NGC 1068. 

Active galaxies are powered by supermassive black-holes swallowing the gas surrounding them and are one of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe. NGC 1068, also known as Messier 77, is located 47million-light-years away from us, in the constellation of Cetus and is visible with large binoculars.

Detection was made by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and will be published in the journal, Science

The unique telescope explores the farthest reaches of our universe using neutrinos, says Professor Jenni Adams from the University of Canterbury’s School of Physical and Chemical Sciences and a member of the IceCube Collaboration.

“Neutrinos can escape from the dense environments that trap other energetic particles such as gamma rays. In 2017, the IceCube telescope recorded the first observation of a cosmic neutrino source from a distant active galaxy known as TXS 0506+056,” she says.

“The discovery was a breakthrough, but we have only been able to detect a handful of neutrinos from TXS 0506+056 due to its distance from us,” Professor Adams says.

“NGC 1068 is a hundred times closer than TXS 0506+056 and is emitting a steady stream of neutrinos. Neutrinos are the only particles able to escape through the dense mass of gas and particles which surround the central region of NGC 1068 where the black hole is located. It’s very exciting that we now have a view into the central engine of this cosmic monster and unique information about how it generates such extreme power.” 

IceCube is the world’s largest neutrino telescope, with a cubic kilometre array of sensors in the South Pole ice and is leading the field in cosmic neutrino detection.

Two of the main analysers for this new research – Hans Niederhausen, a postdoctoral associate at Michigan State University, and Theo Glauch, a postdoctoral associate at the Technical University of Munich – developed techniques to better resolve the neutrino properties and isolate the emission from the active galaxy.

“We have plans for extending the IceCube telescope and these results are hugely motivating,” Professor Adams says.

“Our proposed IceCube-Gen2 observatory would not only detect many more of these extreme particle accelerators but will also allow their study at even higher energies. It is a new era in astronomy with neutrinos unveiling previously obscured regions in our Universe.”

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is operated by the IceCube Collaboration, consisting of more than 350 scientists at 58 institutions around the world.

Major funding comes from the US National Science Foundation, and from funding agencies in all other participating countries.

The University of Canterbury’s IceCube research has been supported by the Marsden Fund Council from Government funding, managed by Royal Society Te Apārangi. 

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