Physicists, engineers, and technicians from the University of Delaware's Bartol Research Institute are part of an international team working to build the world's largest neutrino telescope in the Antarctic ice. Neutrinos have no electrical charge and can travel millions of miles through space. Dubbed "IceCube," the telescope will occupy a cubic kilometer of Antarctica when it is completed in 2011, opening super-sensitive new eyes into the heavens. "IceCube will provide new information about some of the most violent and far-away astrophysical events in the cosmos," says Thomas Gaisser, one of the project's lead scientists.
Gaisser is managing the University's continued deployment of the telescope's surface array of detectors, known as "IceTop." The IceCube telescope consists of kilometer-long strings of 60 optical detectors frozen more than a mile deep in the Antarctic ice. Atop each string of deep detectors sits a pair of 600-gallon IceTop tanks, each containing two optical detectors. The surface IceTop detectors measure cascades of particles generated by high-energy cosmic rays showered down from above, while the detectors deep in the ice monitor neutrinos passing up through the planet from below. When a flash of light is detected, the information is relayed to the nearby IceCube Lab, where the path of the particle can be reconstructed and scientists can trace where it came from, perhaps an exploding star or a black hole.