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In March 2021, after years of analyzing and confirming data, astrophysicists reported that the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a detector buried at the South Pole, had picked up an unusual signal in 2016. The signal suggested that an antineutrino, a particle known as, had crossed time and space — possibly originating in another galaxy — before hitting Antarctica and unleashing a particle cloud.
According to the Standard Model of particle physics, every known type of particle has an antimatter counterpart (though there’s hardly any trace of antimatter in the universe today). Sheldon Glashow, the future Nobel laureate, predicted more than 60 decades ago that an antineutrino, the antimatter solution to the almost massless neutrino, could collide with an electron and produce a cascade or other particles. It is difficult to detect the “Glashow resonance” phenomenon, in part because it requires 1 ,000 more energy than the colliders with the most powerful on Earth.
But IceCube’s detection is evidence that cosmic accelerators in space could readily propel high-energy particles. Lu Lu, a physicist at the University of Wisconsin Madison, said that it was possible only with a natural accelerator and not ground-based ones. “No one had ever directly observed the resonance before.”
She says the detection is exciting for at least two reasons. It confirms the predictions of the Standard Model of Physics. It also shows that IceCube can be used by researchers to treat the cosmos like a high-energy, natural laboratory for physics research. She says, “It opens up a new window onto neutrinoastronomy.”
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