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In order to advance the detection of the highest energy neutrinos, Professor Abigail Vieregg developed instrumentation, for which she was given a Moore Foundation Experimental Physics Investigators Initiative Award. Neutrinos are minuscule ghostly particles that can provide information about distant astrophysical occurrences. Over the past ten years, advances in neutrino astronomy have explored the mysterious interactions of neutrinos. From deep space, neutrinos reach Earth and occasionally enter ice sheets. The conditions are ideal for finding signs of their behavior in Greenland and at the South Pole, both of which are covered in enormous amounts of translucent glacial ice.

Abigail Vieregg is a professor in the Departments of Physics and Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Enrico Fermi Institute, and the new David N. Schramm director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. “When neutrinos interact in ice, they make a shower of particles that makes very fast blips of radio waves in the ice,” she said. Her experiment creates a neutrino telescope, which enables them to analyze radio waves and produce in-depth reconstructions of how neutrinos interact, by embedding radio antennas in an array into the ice of Greenland. She said that because neutrinos are the ideal messenger particle, it is possible to observe distant high-energy objects while preventing any other particles those high-energy objects produce from traveling here from being absorbed. Neutrinos endure, traveling all the way here, and are able to recount events.

However, Vieregg noted that extremely high-energy neutrinos are one million times more energetic than what you can generate at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest particle accelerator on Earth. Many particle physicists aren’t seeking for signs to high energy physics in astronomy and cosmology. High sensitivity observations allow researchers to probe the characteristics of neutrinos directly as well as track the evolution of high energy sources across time, which is a key cosmological concern. For the Radio Neutrino Observatory (RNO-G), which is being built at Summit Station in Greenland, Vieregg is the original principal investigator. She has had ambitions to construct a neutrino telescope in Greenland since 2013. She oversaw a field team of postdoctoral researchers who measured the ice at Summit Station to make sure it was sufficiently transparent.

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In order to demonstrate that a phased-together group of antennas may create the world’s most sensitive detector for high energy neutrinos, her team at the University of Chicago started testing hardware in 2015. They came up with a concept that utilizes interferometry to detect when an event occurs and measure it. In 2018, Vieregg’s team oversaw its development and deployment as a prototype for equipment to be used at the South Pole as part of the Askaryan Radio Array (ARA). Deploying a sizable detector in Greenland didn’t actually happen until 2019, when scientists from the U.S. and Europe joined together. Summit Station’s central computing and communication equipment, along with seven of the 35 planned antenna stations, have all been installed. One of the largest neutrino detectors ever built will be used in this experiment.

Vieregg said that the fact that “we now have the highest sensitivity detector at the highest energies” had aided RNO-G in luring 16 partner institutions. Numerous universities are building equipment. “Could we make it 500 antennas to really scale it up and make it a much bigger experiment? —we need to figure out how to get the most energy out of our solar and wind energy while also making it simpler to scale up the instruments. On October 27, it was revealed that Prof. Vieregg had received a $1.25 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Experimental Physics Investigators Initiative to support futuristic equipment that will be tested on RNO-G before being used to create a variety of new ground- or space-based detectors in the future.

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We appreciate that the Moore Foundation has provided funding for this phase so we can focus on delivering a more flexible design that can be applied to a variety of different applications, she said. She thinks that their new method may be scaled down and utilized on cubesats, which are little spacecraft launched as payloads from launch vehicles or placed in orbit at the International Space Station. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation supports ground-breaking scientific research, environmental protection, health care advancements, and the maintenance of the Bay Area’s distinctive identity.

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