College News

Ice Cube Astronomy

UA professor of astronomy Dawn Williams will share the wonders of Antarctica and the groundbreaking research done in the Ice Cube Neutrino Detector in a talk on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. in Room 227 Gallalee Hall before the public night.

During a talk entitled “Ice Cube: The weirdest wonder of modern astronomy,” Williams will describe how this high-energy detector was built by melting ice and how the nearly massless particles called neutrinos give insights into violent astrophysical events. She will also discuss the vast amount of unknowns that exist in the field.

“Ice Cube is on the high-energy frontier of astronomy,” Williams said.

A neutrino is one of the fundamental particles of nature. With a mass 500,000 times less than an electron, neutrinos have an ability to pass through mass as they have weak interactions with matter. They are created in high-energy sources such as the sun. By measuring the amount of energy from each neutrino, scientists can gain insights into astrophysical objects like a massive black hole or gamma ray bursts, which Williams said are the most powerful explosions in the universe.

“We’re looking for neutrinos specifically to help us study the insides of very large astrophysical events,” Williams said. “There is no other way for us to get information about the core.”

Williams has been part of the Ice Cube Collaboration since 2004. She has traveled to Antarctica once before, but does most of her work from a lab. She analyzes data given from the detector looking for specific neutrinos.

“We’re all being bathed by millions of neutrinos every second from the sun,” Williams said. “I’m interested in pushing the boundaries and frontiers of what we know.”

Ice Cube is unique in its ability to detect very high energy neutrinos, Williams said. By using the ice to scatter them, Ice Cube is able to gain energy and direction readings from the neutrinos. Yet, there are still mysteries as Williams said they are still trying to understand the data they are receiving and do not know specifically where these neutrinos are coming from.

“It’s part of exploring the extreme universe,” Williams said. “We’re in the process of interpreting what it is that we’ve been shown.”

The talk is free and open to the public. The Astronomy Department’s public night will be held at 8 p.m. after the talk if the weather permits it.