A Moment of Science

A Deep Hole in the Pole

The neatest new idea for a telescope is a deep hole in the pole. Learn about the AMANDA II on this Moment of Science.

Nowadays we have telescopes of all different sorts, from ones that orbit the planet to giant radio dishes in the deserts. The neatest new idea for a telescope, though, is a deep hole in the pole.

AMANDA II stands for Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array. You know what “Antarctic” means: this baby lives at the south pole. The international project members who built it dug half a mile down into polar ice. Then they lowered in a series of light detectors, on the lookout for one of the most elusive particles in the universe: the neutrino.

Neutrinos are so tiny and zippy they can pass through the entire planet without hitting anything. Every now and then, however, one will collide with something–say a water molecule in the crystal-clear polar ice. When neutrino meets molecule, tell-tale flashes are given off, and AMANDA registers these.

Now comes the really neat part: that makes AMANDA into a kind of telescope. Imagine some cool extra-galactic event, like a supernova or the collision of two black holes. This gives off a stream of neutrinos, some of which travel to earth and make it almost through the planet, only to tag a water molecule on the way out.

AMANDA spots the collision and, because neutrinos travel in straight lines, tells exactly which direction the neutrino came from. With that, scientists can generate a neutrino map of the sky.

Telescopes are old, but a neutrino telescope is new. Odd as it may sound, this deep hole in the ice is helping researchers dig even deeper into space and time.

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