Magazine article PM Network

Scope It Out

Magazine article PM Network

Scope It Out

Article excerpt

THE PROJECT: Build the world's largest telescope 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) beneath the polar ice cap

THE PROJECT LEADER: University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

THE BUDGET: US$271 million

THE SCHEDULE: May 2004 to January 2011

DARK DISCOVERIES

Looking to study some of the least-understood and most elusive particles making up the universe, 3 team led by the University of Wisconsin launched a project to construct a super-powered telescope. But unlike most telescopes, this one points downward and is buried deep within the ice at the bottom of the Earth.

COMING INTO FOCUS

Scientists will use the telescope, dubbed IceCube, to search for neutrinos, subatomic particles produced by violent astrophysical sources like exploding stars and black holes.

"IceCube is fundamentally a tool for discovery, a new way of looking at the universe," says Jim Yeck, project director. "Regular telescopes look at photons that come from light, and IceCube looks at neutrinos. Neutrinos are much, much smaller. Using neutrinos to took at the universe is like using an X-ray to look at your hand- you can see a lot more."

What scientists are hoping to see are clues to the origins of the dark energy thaï permeates space and increases the universe's rate of expansion.

THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

Neutrinos are everywhere, but they can't be detected up in the Milky Way Galaxy because of cosmic dust. So the project team pointed its telescope in the opposite direction.

"Detecting neutrinos requires an enormous space, far away from light pollution," Mr. Yeck says. "Unlike most other particles, they have almost no mass, no electrical charge and pass through most rnatier undetectedtrillions stream through your body every second. To observe enough neutrinos for the research to be statistically significant, you have to build a huge detector, and the environment has to be dark to see the fiash of light when a neutrino interacts. …

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