A key first step has been taken in the construction of IceCube, a giant neutrino telescope spanning a volume of one cubic kilometer of ice at the South Pole: Working under harsh Antarctic conditions, an international team of scientists, engineers and technicians – among them scientists from the DESY research center – has successfully deployed a first critical part of the telescope, a string of 60 optical detectors, in a 2.4-kilometer-deep hole drilled into the Antarctic ice. Comprising a total of at least 70 such strings, the $272 million telescope will be the largest scientific instrument ever built. Designed to detect cosmic neutrinos – ghost-like high-energy particles from deep space – it will open up a new window to the sky and allow scientists to investigate the still-mysterious sources of cosmic rays.
IceCube is a joint international effort involving more than 20 institutions from the USA, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Japan and New Zealand. German contributors are the research center DESY with its location in Zeuthen close to Berlin, and universities in Berlin, Dortmund, Mainz and Wuppertal. The major part of the telescope and its construction is being financed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with $30 million in support coming from European partners.
In a common effort, DESY and the German universities will deliver more than a quarter of the around 4200 optical modules that are to be deployed over the next six years. 1300 volleyball-sized glass spheres, each of them housing a highly sensitive light detector and sophisticated electronics, will be assembled and tested at DESY in Zeuthen. “The first IceCube string, which was successfully lowered into the ice in late January, already comprises eight optical modules produced in Zeuthen,” says physicists Rolf Nahnhauer, who is responsible for the production of the modules at DESY. Setting the string into the Antarctic ice required drilling a 2.4-kilometer-deep hole using a novel hot-water drill. “The detectors are then frozen in place in the ice,” explains Nahnhauer. “The first string is working perfectly, and data from the string and the surface tanks is now being transmitted to the Northern Hemisphere.”
Petra Folkerts | alfa
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