In a cosmic first, scientists detect ‘ghost particles’ from a distant galaxy

By Sarah Kaplan

When the sun was young and faint and the Earth was barely formed, a gigantic black hole in a distant, brilliant galaxy spat out a powerful jet of radiation. That jet contained neutrinos — subatomic particles so tiny and difficult to detect they are nicknamed “ghost particles.”

Four billion years later, at Earth’s South Pole, 5,160 sensors buried more than a mile beneath the ice detected a single ghostly neutrino as it interacted with an atom. Scientists then traced the particle back to the galaxy that created it.

The cosmic achievement, reported Thursday by a team of more than 1,000 researchers in the journal Science, is the first time scientists have detected a high-energy neutrino and been able to pinpoint where it came from. It heralds the arrival of a new era of astronomy in which researchers can learn about the universe using neutrinos as well as ordinary light.

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