- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

Astronomers are finalizing plans for a telescope buried 1.5 miles under the South Pole. One cubic kilometer (0.62 miles) in size, it will point down through the center of the Earth toward the northern skies above Europe, Asia, North America and the Arctic.

This is the IceCube, the strangest, most isolated and certainly coldest terrestrial telescope ever planned. The IceCube is a neutrino detector created to seek out ghostly, high-energy subatomic particles from the farthest reaches of space. It will be made by drilling 1.5-mile-deep holes in the ice with hot water, then dropping in strings of light detectors assembled like pearls on a thread.

Plans for the telescope were given a boost this month with the publication of the first results from the IceCube's sister, Amanda, or the Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array. Those results, which appeared in Nature magazine, will be the subject of much discussion this week at the British National Astronomical Meeting in Cambridge.

Neutrinos are the most elusive particles known. They have almost no mass or charge and can flit through planets or the center of galaxies at the speed of light. They travel the largest imaginable distances unabsorbed by matter or radiation and so are unhindered by stars, planets or magnetic fields.

Most neutrinos detected on Earth come from the atmosphere, where they are generated by cosmic rays hitting air molecules, or from the sun. But high-energy neutrinos are also produced in collisions in some of the most violent places in the universe.

By detecting the particles and following their trails back to their point of origin, physicists hope to get unparalleled insight into colliding black holes, gamma-ray bursts the mysterious explosions that light up the cosmos once a day the wreckage of exploded stars and the violent cores of distant galaxies.

To investigate neutrinos, physicists need a dense shield that filters out other, less-persistent particles. In a laboratory, that is usually made from lead. But when it comes to looking at cosmic neutrinos, a far bigger and more sensitive detector is needed. One solution is to use the Earth itself as a shield and adapt the properties of the clear ice of the South Pole.

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