IceCube Neutrino Observatory

People often wonder what activities occur at the South Pole during the winter, or to phrase it differently, why are we here?  Over the course of the next couple of months I will tell you about some of the scientific investigations underway at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in such diverse fields as earth science, astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, and climatology.

IceCube Laboratory – March 2012 by Dale Mole’

Perhaps one of the most unique investigations being conducted is that of the IceCube Laboratory (ICL), more formally known as the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.  Construction of the $276,000,000 project started in 2004 and was just recently completed.  The structure shown in the picture above is just the “tip of the iceberg”, for deeply buried in the ice below the laboratory are about five thousand Digital Optical Modules or DOMs designed to detect the traces of sojourners from outer space.  No, not the sort of aliens depicted in the various movie versions of “The Thing”, but rather subatomic particles known as neutrinos.

The Neutrino Detector Array Buried Deep In The South Pole Ice

Neutrinos (Italian for “small neutral one”) are constantly bombarding Earth and can result from radioactive decay, nuclear reactions, or energetic cosmic events.  Unlike many other particles of cosmic origin, they have a very small mass and are electrically neutral, so they are not affected by the magnetic fields of stars and planets.  As a matter of fact, they interact very little with other matter and are able to pass right through the Earth unimpeded.  Since they travel in a straight line it is possible for scientists to trace their trajectory back to their point of origin. This makes neutrinos one of the best tools for uncovering mysteries in the farthest reaches of the universe.  But neutrinos are notoriously difficult to detect and it takes very special instruments in a very special environment to have any hope of success.

The Digital Optical Module (DOM) That Detects Blue Light Flashes In The Ice