Scientists discover source of cosmic rays, opening new era of ‘multi-messenger astronomy’
A team of international scientists has pinpointed the cosmic source of a ghostly subatomic particle called a neutrino, marking the beginning of a new era in astronomy.
A team of international scientists has pinpointed the cosmic source of a neutrino, a ghostly subatomic particle thought to be produced alongside cosmic rays, in a discovery that marks a new era of astronomy.
The findings, initially recorded in September 2017, were published this week in two papers in the journal Science.
On September 22, 2017, a highly charged neutrino from a distant galaxy tore through Earth’s magnetic field, as billions do every day.
“Neutrinos are very mysterious particles,” Juan Collar, a professor of experimental physics at the University of Chicago, told Live Science. “People call them ‘ghost particles’ because they can go through the Earth without interacting. Of all the particles we know, they are the ones that have the smallest probability of interaction with any other known form of matter.”
But the neutrino that traveled to Earth last September would prove unique. After breaching the planet’s magnetic field, it ripped through the Indian Ocean and, eventually, through a block of ice in Antarctica where it collided with an atomic nucleus. As luck would have it, that reaction occurred in a block of ice that belonged to the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, which had outfitted about one cubic kilometer of ice with 5,160 sensors to search for signs of exactly the type of rare neutrino reaction that took place that fateful day.
Underground sensors (Image: IceCube Collaboration/NSF)
The reaction left a trajectory that enabled scientists to determine where the subatomic particle originated. Pinpointing the source of a neutrino would be a major discovery for scientists because neutrinos are thought to be produced by the same forces that emit cosmic rays.
The source of cosmic rays has been a mystery to scientists for more than a century. Every day, these rays bombard Earth's magnetic shield, which deflects them back into space. That's good for us, but it makes it hard for scientists to determine where cosmic rays originate.
“The problem with cosmic rays is that they go out into space and get scrambled,” Erik Blaufuss, a particle astrophysicist who works on IceCube, told The Guardian.
Neutrinos, extremely tiny particles thought to be produced concurrent with cosmic rays, would be the perfect clue in the search for the source of cosmic rays. Unlike cosmic rays, neutrinos travel across space and time virtually undisturbed in a perfectly straight line. As Collar noted, these tiny particles hardly ever interact with matter, even after passing through entire galaxies.
The idea behind the IceCube project was to put in their path as much matter as possible, in the form of a billion tons of ice, and listen closely for a reaction–one strong enough to suggest it was at one point accompanied by cosmic rays.
The reaction observed in September 2017 would change everything in the world of neutrino physics.
“It's crazy,” Finley said. “These are particles that seldom interact with anything. That has to be the unluckiest neutrino ever.”
The observatory immediately issued an automatic alert announcing the recording of a high-energy particle reaction. The alert spread across the scientific community, and soon astronomers across the globe pointed telescopes and other instruments toward the upper-left side of the constellation of Orion. There they found its likely source: a blazar galaxy some 3.7 billion light-years from Earth named TXS 0506+056.
Blazars are a unique type of galaxy. Scientists suspect black holes lie at the heart of most galaxies, but some galaxies are believed to revolve around black holes so violent that, in addition to consuming cosmic material with unfathomable force, they emit into space streams of highly charged particles, also known as cosmic rays. When those streams are pointed at Earth, like TXS 0506+056 is, these galaxies are called blazars.
Still, blazars weren’t the prime suspects in the search for the source of cosmic rays.
“It is interesting that there was a general consensus in the astrophysics community that blazars were unlikely to be sources of cosmic rays, and here we are,” IceCube lead scientist Francis Halzen said in a statement. “Now, we have identified at least one source that produces high-energy cosmic rays because it produces cosmic neutrinos.”
After examining past records, the IceCube identified many other neutrino reactions over 150 days in 2014 and 2015 that also seem to have come from TXS 0506+056. The discovery, assuming it’s confirmed, cements the link between cosmic rays and neutrinos.
It also unlocks a new era of “multi-messenger astronomy.”
“The era of multi-messenger astrophysics is here,” said National Science Foundation Director France Córdova. “Each messenger—from electromagnetic radiation, gravitational waves and now neutrinos—gives us a more complete understanding of the universe, and important new insights into the most powerful objects and events in the sky. Such breakthroughs are only possible through a long-term commitment to fundamental research and investment in superb research facilities.”
Ellen Zweibel, a professor of astronomy who works on IceCube, said the discovery opens up new possibilities.
“The universe just talks to us in so many ways, and every time you find a new way of listening, you find something else.”
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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