IceCube Lab in Twilight

“Ghost” particles discovered emanating from a galactic neighbor with a giant black hole

The IceCube Lab sits atop a 1 billion-ton network of sensor devices and ice at the South Pole. Using the powerful Neutrino Telescope, researchers have identified a new source of astrophysical neutrinos from the galaxy NGC 1068. Credit: Martin Wolf, IceCube/NSF

On Earth, trillions of subatomic particles called neutrinos stream through our bodies every second, but we never notice because they rarely interact with matter. In fact, because neutrinos rarely interact with other matter, they can travel unhindered in straight paths over long distances, carrying information about their cosmic origins along the way.

Although most of these aptly named “ghost” particles discovered on Earth originate from the sun or our own atmosphere, some neutrinos originate from the cosmos, far beyond our galaxy. Dubbed asastrophysical neutrinos, these neutrinos can provide valuable insights into some of the most powerful objects in the universe.

An international team of scientists has found the first evidence of high-energy astrophysical neutrinos emanating from the galaxy NGC 1068 in the constellation Cetus.

“The IceCube Neutrino Observatory’s identification of a neighboring galaxy as a cosmic source of neutrinos is just the beginning of this new and exciting field that promises insights into the undiscovered power of massive black holes and other fundamental properties of the Universe.” Denise Caldwell, director of the physics department at NSF

The detection was carried out by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. This 1-billion-ton neutrino telescope is made up of scientific instruments and ice located 1.5 to 2.5 kilometers (0.9 to 1.2 miles) below the surface at the South Pole. The National Science Foundation (NSF) provided the main funding for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison is the lead institution responsible for the maintenance and operation of the detector.

These new results published in the journal this month Sciencewere shared in a presentation at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

“A neutrino can identify a source. But only a multiple neutrino observation will reveal the hidden core of the most energetic cosmic objects,” says Francis Halzen, professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and principal investigator on the IceCube project. “IceCube has collected about 80 teraelectronvolt energy neutrinos from NGC 1068, which is not yet enough to answer all of our questions, but they are definitely the next big step towards making neutrino astronomy a reality.”

IceCube is operated by the international IceCube Collaboration, which includes over 350 scientists from 58 institutions worldwide. The Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC), a research center at UW-Madison, is the lead institution for the IceCube project.

WIPAC is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, which includes keeping the detector running 24/7. The observatory detects neutrinos through tiny flashes of blue light, known as Cherenkov light, produced when neutrinos interact with molecules in the ice.

Hubble spiral galaxy NGC 1068

At a distance of 47 light-years, the spiral galaxy NGC 1068 is a relatively close neighbor of our Milky Way. Source: NASA/ESA/A. van der Hoeven

At WIPAC, a diverse team of scientists and technical and support staff makes the data science ready so that a wide range of investigations can be performed by IceCube scientists. The WIPAC team delivered a new version of the first decade of IceCube data that used a significantly improved detector calibration. This superior dataset helped identify NGC 1068 as a neutrino source.

“A few years ago, the NSF initiated an ambitious project to advance our understanding of the Universe by combining established skills in optical and radio astronomy with new capabilities to detect and measure phenomena such as neutrinos and

gravitational waves
Gravitational waves are distortions or ripples in the fabric of space and time. First discovered by the Advanced LIGO detectors in 2015, they are produced by catastrophic events such as colliding black holes, supernovae or merging neutron stars.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>gravitational waves,” says Denise Caldwell, director of NSF’s Physics Division. “The IceCube Neutrino Observatory’s identification of a neighboring galaxy as a cosmic source of neutrinos is just the beginning of this new and exciting field that promises insights into the undiscovered power of massive black holes and other fundamental properties of the universe.”

The galaxy NGC 1068, also known as Messier 77, is one of the most familiar and well-studied galaxies to date. Located 47 million light-years away — close in astronomical terms — this galaxy can be observed with a pair of large binoculars.

This video shows how IceCube neutrinos have given us our first glimpse into the inner depths of active galaxy NGC 1068. Credits: Video by Diogo da Cruz, with audio by Fallon Mayanja and voice by Georgia Kaw

As with our home galaxy, the

Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our solar system and is named for how it looks from Earth. It is a barred spiral galaxy estimated to contain between 100 and 400 billion stars and is between 150,000 and 200,000 light-years across.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>Milky Way, NGC 1068 is a barred spiral galaxy, with loosely wound arms and a relatively small central bulge. However, unlike the Milky Way, NGC 1068 is an active galaxy where most radiation is not produced by stars, but rather by material falling into a black hole millions of times more massive than our Sun and even more massive than the inactive

Albrecht Karle, a UW–Madison physics professor who is leading efforts to upgrade the current IceCube observatory, says the NGC 1068 detections are “great news” for the future of neutrino astronomy.

“It means that with a new generation of more sensitive detectors there will be much to discover,” says Karle, who is also leading the development of a next-generation neutrino observatory to be built as an extension and technological upgrade of the existing facility at the South Pole.

“The future second-generation IceCube-Gen2 observatory could not only detect many more of these extreme particle accelerators but would also allow their study at even higher energies,” says Karle.

The detection of dozens of neutrinos emanating from NGC 1068 comes several years after IceCube scientists reported the first observation of a high-energy astrophysical neutrino source. That source was TXS 0506+056, a blazar located about 4 billion light-years away, beyond the left shoulder of the Orion constellation. The NGC 1068 observations suggest there are more sources of astrophysical neutrinos yet to be discovered.

“IceCube has previously discovered that the universe is glowing brightly in neutrinos, and the origin of that glow has been an exciting mystery,” says Justin Vandenbroucke, a physics professor at UW–Madison and a member of IceCube. “NGC 1068 provides one key piece of that puzzle and can explain only about one-hundredth of the total signal: There must be many additional neutrino sources, and likely additional types of sources, waiting to be discovered.”

The unveiling of the obscured universe has just started, and neutrinos are set to lead a new era of discovery in astronomy.

For more on this research, see Ghostly Neutrino Particles Provide First Glimpse Into the Inner Depths of an Active Galaxy.

Reference: “Evidence for neutrino emission from the nearby active galaxy NGC 1068” by IceCube Collaboration, R. Abbasi, M. Ackermann, J. Adams, J. A. Aguilar, M. Ahlers, M. Ahrens, J. M. Alameddine, C. Alispach, A. A. Alves, N. M. Amin, K. Andeen, T. Anderson, G. Anton, C. Argüelles, Y. Ashida, S. Axani, X. Bai, A. Balagopal V., A. Barbano, S. W. Barwick, B. Bastian, V. Basu, S. Baur, R. Bay, J. J. Beatty, K.-H. Becker, J. Becker Tjus, C. Bellenghi, S. BenZvi, D. Berley, E. Bernardini, D. Z. Besson, G. Binder, D. Bindig, E. Blaufuss, S. Blot, M. Boddenberg, F. Bontempo, J. Borowka, S. Böser, O. Botner, J. Böttcher, E. Bourbeau, F. Bradascio, J. Braun, B. Brinson, S. Bron, J. Brostean-Kaiser, S. Browne, A. Burgman, R. T. Burley, R. S. Busse, M. A. Campana, E. G. Carnie-Bronca, C. Chen, Z. Chen, D. Chirkin, K. Choi, B. A. Clark, K. Clark, L. Classen, A. Coleman, G. H. Collin, J. M. Conrad, P. Coppin, P. Correa, D. F. Cowen, R. Cross, C. Dappen, P. Dave, C. De Clercq, J. J. DeLaunay, D. Delgado López, H. Dembinski, K. Deoskar, A. Desai, P. Desiati, K. D. de Vries, G. de Wasseige, M. de With, T. DeYoung, A. Diaz, J. C. Díaz-Vélez, M. Dittmer, H. Dujmovic, M. Dunkman, M. A. DuVernois, E. Dvorak, T. Ehrhardt, P. Eller, R. Engel, H. Erpenbeck, J. Evans, P. A. Evenson, K. L. Fan, A. R. Fazely, A. Fedynitch, N. Feigl, S. Fiedlschuster, A. T. Fienberg, K. Filimonov, C. Finley, L. Fischer, D. Fox, A. Franckowiak, E. Friedman, A. Fritz, P. Fürst, T. K. Gaisser, J. Gallagher, E. Ganster, A. Garcia, S. Garrappa, L. Gerhardt, A. Ghadimi, C. Glaser, T. Glauch, T. Glüsenkamp, A. Goldschmidt, J. G. Gonzalez, S. Goswami, D. Grant, T. Grégoire, S. Griswold, C. Günther, P. Gutjahr, C. Haack, A. Hallgren, R. Halliday, L. Halve, F. Halzen, M. Ha Minh, K. Hanson, J. Hardin, A. A. Harnisch, A. Haungs, D. Hebecker, K. Helbing, F. Henningsen, E. C. Hettinger, S. Hickford, J. Hignight, C. Hill, G. C. Hill, K. D. Hoffman, R. Hoffmann, B. Hokanson-Fasig, K. Hoshina, F. Huang, M. Huber, T. Huber, K. Hultqvist, M. Hünnefeld, R. Hussain, K. Hymon, S. In, N. Iovine, A. Ishihara, M. Jansson, G. S. Japaridze, M. Jeong, M. Jin, B. J. P. Jones, … J. P. Yanez, S. Yoshida, S. Yu, T. Yuan, Z. Zhang, P. Zhelnin, 3 November 2022, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abg3395

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is funded and operated primarily through an award from the National Science Foundation to the University of Wisconsin–Madison (OPP-2042807 and PHY-1913607). The IceCube Collaboration, with over 350 scientists in 58 institutions from around the world, runs an extensive scientific program that has established the foundations of neutrino astronomy. Learn more about IceCube’s collaborating institutions on UW–Madison’s website.


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