On December 6, 2016, an extremely strong antimatter particle called antineutrino hit the ice in Antarctica. Coming from space, it collided with an electron at a speed almost identical to that of light, with an energy of 6.3 petaelectron volts (PeV).
The phenomenon was discovered by the infrastructures of the IceCube neutrino observatory and is a first! Deep in the South Pole ice cap, the antimatter particle quickly transformed into a shower of secondary particles known as the W boson after impact.
A huge telescope buried under the ice in Antarctica
Before proceeding, it is worth remembering that the IceCube Neutrino Observatory is a gigantic 1 cubic kilometer telescope that sits beneath the ice of the South Pole. It is funded by the National Science Foundation, but also by Germany, Belgium, Japan and Sweden. Regarding the detection in December 2016, it was not only shown what the observatory is capable of, but also confirmed the standard model of particle physics. Note that this phenomenon, known as the Glashow Resonance, remained at the stage of a simple theory for a long time.
A theory that was born in 1960
Sheldon Glashow first proposed this theory in 1960. At the time, the American physicist predicted that an antineutrino could interact with an electron to create a still-unknown particle through a process known as resonance.
In 1983, however, the scientists succeeded in determining the mysterious particle: the W boson. According to Glashow, this process requires a phenomenal amount of energy. After verifying this resonance, scientists can focus on other particle physics questions that remain unanswered.
450 times the energy that can be generated by the LHC. Photo credit: Shutterstock / D-VISIONS
450 times the energy that can be generated by the LHC
It took scientists from the IceCube program more than four to confirm the nature of the December 2016 collision and its consequences. According to the article reporting the discovery in the journal Nature, the energy of 6.3 petaelectron volts that contributed to the impact is so strong that it is impossible to replicate to existing particle accelerators.
This is effectively 450 times the energy that CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) can produce. Because of this, researchers have not received any concrete evidence for the existence of the glass show resonance theory since it appeared more than 60 years ago.