To unlock cosmic mysteries, physicists have turned Antarctic ice into a huge detector. They use it to locate neutrinos with extra-high energy (traces of the most powerful explosions and cataclysms in the universe).
Each year, scientists launch balloons with high-tech equipment from the McMurdo Station for this purpose. Physicists from the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI are conducting the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) experiment to search for ultra-high-energy (UHE) cosmic neutrinos together with the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the University of Hawaii.
This photo story was prepared with the support of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI, a participant in the 5-100 Russian Academic Excellence Project.
There are no radio-emission sources in the Antarctic, and this allows scientists to find traces of neutrinos penetrating the thick ice layers. For this purpose, physicists use powerful radio antennas that resemble ordinary radio telescopes in terms of their operation.
Above: Diagram showing the ANITA detector’s principle of operation
An ANITA antenna is a formidable array of radio transceivers about seven meters high and weighing about one metric ton. The balloon hoists the antenna to an altitude of 37 kilometers where it registers ultra-high-energy neutrinos.
The Antarctic research program was launched 100 years ago. Next to the McMurdo Station stands the shack of Robert Scott, who co-discovered the southernmost and coldest continent on Earth. Built in 1902, it survives to this day.