The Standard Model of particle physics is starting to show signs of breaking down as Antarctica’s IceCube observatory reports findings of a new ‘ghost particle’. Initially thought to be neutrinos, scientists are not so sure anymore about this new particle’s nature or origin. The Standard Model only accounts for the existence of three different species of neutrinos, and the ones recently detected might be an entirely new species of ‘sterile’ neutrinos. Read more to find out.
The IceCube observatory is a 1000m sized patch of land with sensors beneath its surface to record neutrino collisions. Neutrino collisions are incredibly rare, since they just pass through any object in their path. Apart from IceCube, NASA has also set up an Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna, or ANITA, a helium balloon housing an antenna, that hovers over the southern continent. The interesting bit is that ANITA is designed to capture cosmic rays from space, but our ghost particles seem to be originating from inside the Earth. Which means they are entering our planet at one end and coming out the other (where ANITA is positioned) and scientists are baffled as to the whereabouts of the source of this beam of high energy neutrinos. What makes this even more confusing is the fact that this discovery shouldn’t have been possible in the first place since such high energy neutrinos would collide with something in the Earth’s surface before even making it out the other end.
IceCube is like a failsafe for ANITA, a way to cross-check and verify ANITA’s findings. This is possible due to a process called tau neutrino regeneration, which means that the particles that don’t make their way to ANITA should still be detectable by IceCube. Again, our recent discovery contradicts this, since ANITA was the only one to detect these ghost particles.
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What further solidifies the fact these neutrinos are different is that ANITA and IceCube have previously captured high energy neutrinos that reach our planet due to interactions between Cosmic Microwave Background and cosmic rays. The resultant of this interaction doesn’t produce enough high energy neutrinos to be detected.
The only possible explanation for the new ghost particles could be a cosmic accelerator but high energy particles from a cosmic accelerator are also accompanied by low energy variants that should have been detected by IceCube (as previously mentioned, due to tau neutrino regeneration) but none have turned up so far. Scientists also combed through seven years of IceCube data to try and find a possible match for the angle and length of detections at ANITA, also without success.
This isn’t the first time these particles are being detected though, thrice in the past similar particles have been found. Previous discoveries of the same did not lead to the same mystery as now due to different conditions (absence of IceCube for verification for starters) and the blame being placed on an erroneous reading in the equipment.
Nothing we have previously seen or experienced matches up with what we’ve just found, hence pointing to the only logical explanation that what we’ve found is something entirely new. The Standard Model might need to be modified to accommodate for it, or be scrapped altogether in favour of a new model that can explain the recent break in patterns.
Current results and observations prove to be inconclusive at best. More data is required, prompting the need for further research. Unfortunately, scientists say that current hardware would prove inefficient for the job and there is no other choice but to wait for the next generation of neutrino detectors.