The event was also extremely hard to grasp: a neutrino - one of those enigmatic elementary particles that haunt the earth as part of cosmic radiation - has been tracked down with the help of an elaborate experiment. Indeed, billions of neutrinos stream through our fingernails every second, without ruffling so much as a molecule of matter.
Projects such as ARRIANNA and the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station are now on the look-out for neutrinos and it is the latter that has pinned down the location of a steam of neutrinos pouring out from a blazer; a powerful, energetic jet at the heart of an active galactic nucleus surrounding a supermassive black hole.
When the origin of a neutrino couldn't be identified by IceCube the researchers sent their finding to an worldwide network of observatories.
The researchers confirmed that apart from neutrinos, gamma rays are partially produced by high-energy protons in the jets of supermassive black holes.
Scientists announced today that for the first time, they have been able to pinpoint the source of a particle called a high-energy neutrino.
Using IceCube, the scientists backtracked to locate the patch of sky where the neutrino came from, and sent out an alert to observatories around the world to search the spot for flares and outbursts of energy and light that might have accompanied it. This neutrino traveled 3.7 billion years at nearly the speed of light before being detected on Earth.
Cosmic rays are charged particles whose paths can not be traced directly back to their sources due to the powerful magnetic fields that fill space and warp their trajectories.
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Neutrinos are electrically neutral, undisturbed by even the strongest magnetic field, and rarely interact with matter, earning the nickname "ghost particle". This eruption of the blazar could also be detected with other observations - from radio radiation to gamma radiation.
Such a detector is buried deep beneath the South Pole, encompassing 35 billion cubic feet of ice.
This high energy strongly suggested that the neutrino had to be from beyond our solar system.
For more than a century, experts were baffled about the exact place in the universe where these neutrinos are coming from.
That independent observation greatly strengthens the initial detection of a single, high-energy neutrino and adds to a growing body of data that indicates that the blazar is the first known source of high-energy neutrinos and high-energy cosmic rays. It had an energy of 300 trillion electron volts.
Two papers published July 13 in Science provide evidence that energetic particles may originate in jets spewing forth from supermassive black holes-astrophysical objects dubbed blazars because of the blazingly bright light they emit toward Earth. By pairing neutrino detections with light observations, scientists will be able to answer questions about distant cataclysms, test theories about the composition of the universe, and refine their understanding of the fundamental rules of physics. They can register tiny flashes of light produced when a neutrino interacts with the transparent ice they are suspended in.
"Fermi's LAT monitors the entire sky in gamma rays and keeps tabs on the activity of some 2,000 blazars, yet TXS 0506 really stood out", explained NASA Postdoctoral Fellow Sara Buson. "It is accurate to say that we are all swimming in neutrinos". "We have a lot more out there to learn and see". Because the charged particle and the light it creates stay essentially true to the neutrino's original direction, they give scientists a path to follow back to the source.