Ghost particles detected from the South Pole could reveal the inner workings of black holes
A black hole roughly 47 million light-years away, called NGC 1068, is spewing out mysterious and elusive "ghost particles", or neutrinos.
Neutrinos are notoriously difficult to detect as they require precise instruments deep below the Earth's surface to avoid any interference from cosmic rays and background radiation.
One example comes from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, located more than 1.24 miles (2 kilometers) beneath tightly packed ice in Antarctica. In a new paper published in the journal Science, an international team of scientists confirmed it found evidence that 79 "high-energy neutrino emissions" come from the location of NGC 1068.
Neutrinos allow unprecedented insight into the cosmos
The neutrino source was pinpointed thanks to years of data collected of neutrinos interacting with the ice surrounding the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. The latest findings could provide "the next big step towards the realization of neutrino astronomy," Francis Halzen, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and principal investigator of IceCube, explained in a press release.
The scientists on the project explained that the neutrinos emanating from NGC 1068 could have as much as trillions of the amount of energy held in neutrinos previously detected coming from the Sun and supernovas.
Neutrinos are elementary particles alongside protons, neutrons, and electrons. Still, they are challenging to detect, despite being abundant — trillions upon trillions of neutrinos are flying around us at all times.
Initiatives like the Neutrino Observatory program were set up to detect the particles, as they can provide vital information about their source of origin and the wider cosmos. Unlike light particles, photons, neutrinos are largely undisturbed by matter and electromagnetic fields, meaning they have the capacity to carry information that would otherwise be degraded or obscured.
The galaxy NGC 1068, for example, is largely shrouded in a veil of dust. While the James Webb Space Telescope's infrared instruments could help to uncover many of its mysteries, neutrino observations could go even further.
According to Theo Glauch, a postdoctoral associate at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), NGC 1068 "is already a very well-studied object for astronomers, and neutrinos will allow us to see this galaxy in a totally different way. A new view will certainly bring new insights."
The future of neutrino astronomy
Due to the weak interactivity between neutrinos and matter, the field of neutrino astronomy could also shed new light on the inner workings of black holes, helping the scientific community better understand the cosmic giants at the center of most large galaxies.
The new findings also represent an important step for neutrino astronomy that paves the way for upcoming projects and observatories.
"It is great news for the future of our field,” said Marek Kowalski, an IceCube collaborator and senior scientist at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, in Germany. “It means that with a new generation of more sensitive detectors, there will be much to discover. The future IceCube-Gen2 observatory could detect many more of these extreme particle accelerators and allow their study at even higher energies. It's as if IceCube handed us a map to a treasure trove.”