Friday, November 22, 2013

Hot News from IceCube - or - A Neutrino Named Ernie

(From IceCube Collaboration, via, used w/o permission.)
"This image shows the highest energy neutrino ever observed (1.14 petaelectronvolts), which scientists named 'Ernie,' as seen by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole on Jan. 3, 2012. Image released Nov. 21, 2013."

"Neutrino Detector Finds Elusive Extraterrestrial Particles in 'Major Breakthrough'
Tanya Lewis, (November 21, 2013)

"For decades, scientists have been searching for ghostly neutrino particles from outer space, and now they have finally found them.

"Using the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica, researchers found the first evidence of neutrinos from outside the solar system since 1987. The findings open the door for a new era of astronomy that could reveal secrets of the strangest phenomena in the universe, scientists say.

" 'It is a major breakthrough,' said Uli Katz, a particle physicist at University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in Germany, who was not involved with the research. 'I think it is one of the absolute major discoveries in astro-particle physics,' Katz told"

First, what this doesn't mean. Ernie the Neutrino isn't going to blow up the sun, find Elvis, or help anyone win the lottery.

Ernie is one of two recent neutrino events. The other one's Bert: and yes, they had Sesame Street in mind. Scientists aren't nearly as heavily-starched about names as they were a century back, about which the Lemming is pleased. Not that the Lemming's preferences are of great import: except to the Lemming, and this is getting off-topic.

Where was the Lemming? Neutrinos. Bert and Ernie. Really cool science. Downright cold, actually, since IceCube is in Antarctica, and that's yet another topic.

The big deal about Ernie and Bert is that they've got more than one petaelectronvolt. A petaelectronvolt is 1,000,000,000,000,000 electronvolts. That number is pronounced "one quadrillion," or "wow, that's a lot of zeroes."

Maybe these overachieving neutrinos are from someone's ham sandwich, but it's much more likely that they're from deep space: the dark abyss between stars.

It's the first time that scientists are pretty sure that they've detected an extrasolar neutrino, and they're excited about it. So is the Lemming.

One of the next steps will be to find out what flavor the neutrinos are. The Lemming likes pistachio and Butter Brickle ice cream, which may or may not be a registered trademark: and has just about nothing to do with neutrinos. The Lemming is still catching up on sleep.

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