Congratulations to
Messengers from outer space

A galaxy and letters

Picture: iStock.com /alex-mit

What cosmic catastrophes can they be traced back to? That is a mystery we are finally starting to uncover. What has long been clear is that the high-energy neutrinos detected by physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) with the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole come from outside of our solar system. These elementary particles can pass through any kind of matter without difficulty – promising entirely new insights into the universe. In 2017, we were even able to identify a neutrino source for the first time: a blazar four billion light-years away.

Neutrinos – a new window to the universe

“Neutrinos are like messengers from outer space,” explains experimental physicist Elisa Resconi. “Our task is to decipher what they are saying.” The extremely lightweight elementary particles zoom through the universe at close to light speed, and their properties provide insights into the physical processes that catapulted them into outer space. Researchers like Resconi thus hope they can deepen our understanding of massive cosmic phenomena like supernovae, pulsars or active galactic nuclei. It is difficult to explore these phenomena with visible light, radio waves and x-ray radiation, because their photons are obstructed by intergalactic clouds and other barriers.

The problem with neutrinos is that they are hard to capture since they pass through matter without difficulty. The first evidence of high-energy neutrinos from beyond our solar system was obtained in 2012 with the massive IceCube particle detector in the Antarctic. One of the participants in the international project is the TUM research group led by Elisa Resconi. The researchers’ objective is to track down high-energy neutrinos – in other words, those that originate beyond our atmosphere and solar system and which could provide evidence of massive cosmic events in our galaxy or even further afield.

“Now we must determine where these neutrinos come from and how they are created. We are at the frontier of a new astronomy with neutrinos.”

Prof. Elisa Resconi

Elisa Resconi, Heisenberg Professor of the German Research Foundation (DFG) at TUM for Neutrino Astronomy

Picture: Magdalena Jooss / TUM

Video: IceCube neutrino telescope detects origin of extragalactic particles (1'34 min.)

Just how is IceCube able to catch a neutrino coming from a blazar four billion light-years away? Our video explains it. (Copyright: TUM)

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