Way down in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, there are literally hundreds of eyes hanging on suspended cables. Their job is to wait for flashes that provide valuable data. They are seeking the ghostly neutrino particles, which are able to tunnel straight through light-years of the universe and even the rock of a planet – all without ever making contact with matter.
Deep in the ocean, these neutrinos could very well hit a detector from this amazing Cubic Kilometre Neutrino Telescope (KM3NeT). While this global collaborative project is currently in the initial stages of construction, it is believed that it will start detecting and tracking the most elusive particles known to science. This is why a telescope on the ocean floor could be very valuable.
Almost Impossible to Detect Particles
Neutrinos have almost no mass at all and are created within the sun and also in high energy events such as colliding star, supernovas, and bursts of gamma-rays. Since these particles barely touch or interact with anything else in the universe, they are incredibly difficult to observe and study, this is in spite of trillions of them that are passing through our bodies each second.
Scientists have been long contemplating the idea of burying neutrino detectors in vessels of supercooled liquids or even miles underground, in the hopes of providing circumstances that only a neutrino could reach.
However, researchers have decided to place detectors on the bottom of the ocean, on the opposite side of the Earth from the sky they are hoping to study, in order to keep everything but neutrinos from reaching their detectors.
Generally speaking, a neutrino detector sits back and waits for that rare flash of energy that these particles put off whenever they collide with other atoms. But since these interactions do not occur very often, neutrino detectors have a lot of ground to cover. KM3Net will eventually occupy one cubic kilometer of seawater – which is roughly 400,000 Olympic sized swimming pools.
A neutrino detector also must be protected from the rigors of ordinary radiation, which will actually drown out the dimmer flash of neutrino interactions. So in the past, scientists have built them very deep underground, in places like abandoned mines or under ice sheets in the Antarctic.
Now, they intend to try building one on the sea’s bottom – and far on the other side of the planet. “The underwater telescope is bombarded by millions of different particles but only neutrinos can pass through the Earth to reach the detector from below,” stated Clancy James, who is a researcher from the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy located in Australia, who is a KM3Net partner. “So, unlike normal telescopes, it looks down through the Earth at the same sky viewed by upward-facing telescopes in Australia.”
Each telescope is comprised of spherical detectors that are little bit larger than a basketball. These detectors suspend from vertical lines, and each one connects to cables that run across the sea floor. The very first of these test components were installed in the year 2013, and follow up constructions took place in years 2015 and 2018. Scientists are presently testing various detectors, and they in also searching for the funding to complete a full array.
Two Critical Telescopes
KM3Net is made up of two telescopes. One is referred as ARCA, which stands for Astroparticle Research with Cosmics in the Abyss, and it is located off the Italian coast. ARCA will find and study higher-energy cosmic neutrinos that are created by the high energy events of the universe, such as gamma-ray bursts, and will provide researchers with a much keener understanding of the most powerful of astrophysical events.
The second telescope is called ORCA, which stands for Oscillation Research with Cosmics in the Abyss, and is located near France. This telescope studies the lower-energy particles that are created by cosmic rays that strike the Earth’s atmosphere.
Up to now, the operations of the telescope have been for only testing purposes, and has indicated that its current setup is successful with using just a few of the hundreds of detectors that will eventually be used. The research team is currently adding more. When we install a telescope on the ocean floor, this will mean that the astronomers have much better odds of finding these elusive neutrino signals.