Incredible IceCube observatory built 8,000ft BENEATH the Antarctic ice designed to catch mysterious particles from space

Deep beneath the ice of Antarctica, the world’s strangest observatory has finally reached completion.

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is a gigantic telescope at the South Pole that is designed to detect elusive subatomic particles called neutrinos that travel through Earth at the speed of light.

Construction of the telescope ended last weekend although it has already been collecting data for several years.

Very little is known about neutrinos, but they are believed to carry information about the birth of our galaxy and the mystery of black holes.

The final Digital Optical Module (DOM) descends down a bore hole in the ice as it is deployed in the IceCube array, the world's largest neutrino observatory, built under the Antarctic tundra near the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

The IceCube array uses strings of sensors taht are lowered down deep boreholes in the ice. The IceTop has two layers of detectors just below the surface. The Eiffel Tower is depicted, bottom right, to show the detector's size

Physicists think that they are born when violent cosmic events, such as colliding galaxies or distant black holes, occur at the very edges of the universe.

Able to travel billions of light years through space without being absorbed or deflected either by magnetic fields or by atoms, these mysterious high-energy particles could provide answers to some of the most fundamental questions about the universe.

But first you have to find them.

So scientists are using ice to watch for that rare occasion that a neutrino crashes into one of the atoms making up the molecules of water ice.

Matthias Danninger of Stockholm University assists in the deployment of the final Digital Optical Module

The giant telescope was built at an average depth of up to 8,000 feet beneath the Antarctic plateau at the South Pole.

The entire project cost $279 million, of which the National Science Foundation contributed $242 million towards it.

The final stretch of construction ended with the drilling of the last of 86 holes for the 5,160 optical sensors that are now installed to form the main detector.

The collision between a neutrino and an atom produces particles known as ?muons’ in a flash of blue light called ?Cherenkov radiation’. In the ultratransparency of the Antarctic ice, IceCube’s optical sensors detect this blue light.

The trail left in the wake of the subatomic collision allows scientists to trace the direction of the incoming neutrino, back to its point of origin, be it a black hole or a crashing galaxy.

The final module, signed by all the team, is readied for deployment

However, it is more complicated than simply detecting muons.

For every muon created by a cosmic neutrino, a million more are produced by cosmic rays in the atmosphere above the detector.

Therefore, to counter this interference, IceCube’s sensors are actually directed downwards, through the Earth’s core to the skies above the Arctic, to detect neutrinos as they pass through the planet.

As neutrinos are the only known particles that can pass through matter unobstructed, IceCube and AMANDA use the planet as a filter to select only the muons that result from collisions with neutrinos.

The elusive nature of neutrinos also dictates the positioning of the observatory. A neutrino telescope must be transparent enough so that light can pass through a widely spaced array of sensors, and dark enough to avoid interference from natural light.

It must also be deep enough to avoid interference from southern hemisphere cosmic rays.

The Antarctic ice fulfils all of these criteria.

Artist's impression of a 'Cerenkov light cone' passing through the IceCube telescope, left. IceCube will encompass AMANDA (yellow cylinder), right, a smaller neutrino detector. The coloured dots show where the passage of a neutrino has been detected by the modules as it passes through the array

The size of the observatory - a cubic kilometre of ice - is important because it increases the number of potential collisions that can be observed.

In addition, the type of ice at the South Pole is perfect for detecting the rare collisions. Most ice contains air bubbles and other pockets that would distort measurements.

But at the South Pole, it's basically a giant glacier consisting almost entirely of water ice, meaning there are more atoms and so more chance of a neutrino collision.

Each of the round detectors are placed on a long string and lowered into holes in the ice that were drilled using a powerful hot-water drill that melted up to 200,000 gallons of ice per hole.

Each cable string has 60 sensors at depth with 86 strings making up the main IceCube detector.

The IceCube lab on the Antarctic tundra near the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Scientists have been building the observatory for the past five years


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