Mysterious Particles Found in Antarctica Traced Back to Supermassive Black Holes

Neutrinos are peculiar and enigmatic particles. Their mass is tiny, have no electric charge, and engage with other matter only seldom, but they are incredibly common.

At any moment, approximately 100 billion neutrinos are moving through every square centimeter of our bodies. They are created by the Big Bang and are still being produced by everything in the Universe, from stars to supernovas.

Defying Physics

One of the more recent neutrino enigmas started when some neutrinos were found by the ANtarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA). Unlike most neutrino identifiers that are massive, sensitive networks, ANITA is a radio detector attached to a balloon, and it can only detect high-energy neutrinos when they appear in the Antarctic ice to produce a burst of radio light.

Earlier this year, ANITA found strange signals that appeared to be created by extremely high-energy neutrinos, with such energy mass that they seemed to disobey the standard model of particle physics.

ANITA, pictured shortly before a launch in 2014. [Image: NASA/Balloon Program Office]
High-energy neutrinos have also been found by the IceCube neutrino detector in Antarctica. These particles are not as energetic as the ones identified by ANITA, but they could offer scientists some clues as to how high-energy neutrinos are created.

Supermassive Black Holes of Quasars are the Source

Not long ago, a team of researchers analyzed one possible source: the supermassive black holes of quasars. Supermassive black holes are gravitational fireballs, squeezing hot gas that surrounds them using gravity and electromagnetic fields. These massive cosmic bodies are able to emit stupendous amounts of energy, including high-energy neutrinos.

The team compared four dozen IceCube neutrino findings with radio observations from the Russian RATAN-600 radio telescope. They discovered that neutrinos were identified at times when a quasar encountered a radio flare.

The most possible explanation then is that when quasars are active, bursts of gamma rays are created within the radio flare. The gamma rays then clash with surrounding atoms, producing a burst of neutrinos. Because the neutrinos move at almost the speed of light, they get to Earth at the same time as the radio burst.

This is only early research, and it addresses a part of the high-energy neutrino mystery. Scientists now know one way in which these neutrinos can be created, but the source of the most energetic neutrinos is still unknown.

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