Astronomers find ghostly particle in Antarctica, led to monster-like spinning black hole

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The blazar is called TXS 0506+056 and it appears in the sky just below the arm of the constellation Orion (representational image)
The blazar is called TXS 0506+056 and it appears in the sky just below the arm of the constellation Orion (representational image)

New Delhi : In a major breakthrough, astronomers have confirmed a key source of cosmic rays some of the highest energy yet most mysterious radiation in the universe. The discovery took place after the detection of a single "ghostly" particle in Antarctica. 

As per scientific information, cosmic rays were discovered more than 100 years ago, but their origins went unexplored because they can be deflected on the way to Earth, and the atmosphere here absorbs most of them.

The "ghost" particle, termed as neutrino was detected by the researchers in September 2017 using IceCube, a huge array of sensors implanted deep in the ice of Antarctica. The neutrino was extraordinarily energetic, and when scientists tracked the particle back to its source, they found a super-massive spinning black hole called a 'blazar', millions of times the mass of the sun that's gorging up gas and dust.

The blazar is called TXS 0506+056 and it appears in the sky just below the arm of the constellation Orion. Scientists say that the supermassive black hole is situated 4 billion light-years away from Earth, in the core of what's called an active galaxy.

After the detection of high-energy neutrino, IceCube alerted other astronomers, who aimed a suite of light-based observatories at the blazar. Those telescopes and detectors embedded captured a massive burst of other radiation.

"This is the first evidence that we have of an active galaxy emitting neutrinos, which means we may soon start observing the universe using neutrinos to learn more about these objects in ways that would be impossible with light alone," Marcos Santander, an astrophysicist at the University of Alabama, said in a press release.

Santander and others have detailed their research in two parts published in the journal Science. The first part talks about the high-energy neutrino which researchers believe was generated by cosmic rays to the blazar. A second part shores up more proofs for the link by finding many more lower-energy neutrinos apparently emanating from the blazar.

Erin Bonning, an astrophysicist at Emory University who studied blazars but was not a part of the research, said the work, if the statistical details bear out, is "really cool" because it's only the second time that a high-energy neutrino has been linked to source outside our solar system. The first was a couple dozen neutrinos emitted by a supernova in 1987.

According to astronomers, Blazars represent a potentially large source of cosmic rays, since there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the visible universe, and about 10% at any time are "active," meaning they're eating matter. "The thing that makes a blazar different from an active galactic nuclei is that a blazar is when Earth is looking down the barrel of a jet," Bonning said.

Cosmic rays constantly hit the Earth. Also known as cosmic ionizing radiation, the particles are the cores of atoms or subatomic pieces of their cores, called protons, moving at nearly light-speed. They can travel for billions of years through space before randomly hitting Earth.

However, one cannot see these high-energy charged particles, but tens of thousands of them are soaring through space and slamming into Earth's atmosphere from all directions, in any moment.

These unseen cosmic rays don't give much threat to humans on Earth's surface, since the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field shield us from most of the threat. But far above the ground, where air is less dense, the particles are more likely to affect people. This is the possible reason why flight attendants, pilots, and deep-space astronauts are at higher risk of cancers.

"Cosmic rays are not a significant exposure risk on the ground," Eddie Semones, a radiation health officer at NASA, previously told Business Insider. "You actually get more exposure from the Earth's natural radioactive material than from galactic cosmic rays."