CNN reported Thursday that scientists have successfully traced the origin of a “ghostly subatomic particle” that traveled to Earth from 3.7 billion light-years away through the use of NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The particle, now referred to as a neutrino, was discovered buried deep in the ice of Antarctica.
The neutrino was first discovered by scientists using the NSF’s IceCube Neutrino Observatory and was later found to be originated from another galaxy containing a “supermassive, rapidly spinning black hole at its center, known as a blazar,” which is positioned to the left of the constellation Orion’s shoulder around 4 billion light-years away.
According to scientists, the discovery of these particles allows them to study the universe in a brand-new way, hinting that this might allow them to track the origin of cosmic rays for the very first time.
Penn State University physics professor, Doug Cowen, said “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. 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!”
In addition to being high energy, neutrinos are vaporous and contain very little mass, enabling them to pass through any type of matter without changing as well as allowing them to travel through galaxies and planets.
The director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA, Paul Hertz, noted, “Fermi has helped make another giant leap in a growing field we call multimessenger astronomy.”
Hertz went on to explain.
“Neutrinos and gravitational waves deliver new kinds of information about the most extreme environments in the universe. But to best understand what they’re telling us, we need to connect them to the ‘messenger’ astronomers know best—light.”
Multimessenger astronomy aided the discovery of a neutron star collision back in October. Upon further examination, scientists found that the collision was responsible for creating gravitational waves.
NSF Director, France Córdova, released a statement, claiming “the era of multimessenger astrophysics is here. 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,” Córdova continued, “are only possible through a long-term commitment to fundamental research and investment in superb research facilities.”
Scientists plan to continue searching for neutrino detections and hope to discover if neutrinos can be produced by celestial objects other than blazars.