NGC 1068, a black hole 47 million light-years away, is spewing out mysterious and elusive “ghost particles,” or neutrinos.
One example comes from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica, which is more than 1.24 miles (2 kilometres) beneath densely packed ice. An international team of scientists confirmed in a new research published in the journal Science that 79 “high-energy neutrino emissions” originate from the location of NGC 1068.
Neutrinos provide unprecedented insight into the universe
The source of the neutrinos has been identified thanks to years of data collection of neutrinos interacting with the ice around the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. The latest results could represent “The next big step in realizing neutrino astronomy,” stated Francis Halzen, professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and principal investigator for IceCube, in a press release.
The project’s experts indicated that the neutrinos emitted by NGC 1068 could have trillions of times the energy of neutrinos previously observed from the Sun & supernovas.
Neutrinos, like protons, neutrons, and electrons, are elementary particles. Despite their abundance, neutrinos are difficult to detect – trillions upon trillions of them are constantly whizzing around us.
Initiatives such as the Neutrino Observatory programme were established to detect the particles, which can reveal critical information about their source of origin & the larger cosmos. Unlike light particles photons, neutrinos are essentially unaffected by matter and electromagnetic fields, allowing them to transmit information that might otherwise be degraded or concealed.
The galaxy NGC 1068, for example, is mostly covered in dust. While the infrared instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope may assist to solve many of its mysteries, neutrino observations may go even further.
According to Theo Glauch, a postdoctoral associate at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), NGC 1068 “is already a well-studied object for astronomers, and neutrinos will allow us to examine this galaxy in a whole new way. A fresh perspective will almost probably yield new insights.”
The future of neutrino astronomy
Because of the weak interaction between neutrinos & matter, neutrino astronomy may throw new light on the inner workings of black holes, allowing scientists to better understand the cosmic giants at the center of most massive galaxies.
The new findings are also a crucial step forward for neutrino astronomy, paving the path for future projects & observatories.
“It’s fantastic news for the future of our discipline,” said Marek Kowalski, an IceCube collaborator and senior scientist at Germany’s Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron. “It suggests that there will be a lot to find with a new generation of more sensitive detectors.” The IceCube-Gen2 observatory could discover many more of these extreme particle accelerators and investigate them at much higher energy in the future. It’s as if IceCube handed us a treasure trove.”