The Reporter
Issue 491, 16 June 2003
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From outer space to the bottom of the sea

 

Leeds is involved in an ambitious project to study particles from outer space, not by the usual technique of scanning the skies, but by staring into the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

Drs Stella Bradbury and Joachim Rose are part of a team setting up a massive telescope under the sea just off the French coast. The ANTARES project hopes to detect neutrinos, high energy particles which can pass through matter. In many cases, neutrinos are the only 'cosmic messengers' able to reach us from the region around massive black holes at the centre of other galaxies.

Neutrinos are almost impossible to detect, but if they come into direct contact with an atomic nucleus, they form other particles called muons, which can be detected, as they create light when passing through water.

Dr Joachim Rose said: "We’re using the Earth itself as a massive target, hoping that enough neutrinos will crash into atoms on their way through, to show up as muon flashes on the underwater telescope."

The telescope is made up of 900 light detectors on long strings, submerged 2,400m below sea level across an area the size of several football pitches. As the pale blue light which the muons emit is picked up at different points by the detectors, the particle’s path can be plotted back to the galaxy or hypernova explosion the muon (and therefore its parent neutrino) has come from, telling the researchers more about what is really happening in that part of space.

Spiral galaxy NGC 1232
Messages from outer space - researchers hope to identify particles which originate from other galaxies, such as (pictured) the spiral galaxy NGC 1232, in the constellation Eridanus, taken by the FORS1 instrument on the 8.2m European Southern Observatory's very large telescope

The Antarest website will provide further information:
antares.in2p3.fr

 
 


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