Rare triplet of high-energy neutrinos detected from an unknown source

IceCube Neutrino Laboratory

THRICE AS NICE  Using detectors buried in the Antarctic ice, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory detected a rare burst of three neutrinos.

Sven Lidstrom, IceCube/NSF

Three high-energy neutrinos have been spotted traveling in tandem.

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica detected the trio of lilliputian particles on February 17, 2016. This is the first time the experiment has seen a triplet of neutrinos that all seemed to come from the same place in the sky and within 100 seconds of one another. Researchers report the find February 20 on arXiv.org.

Physicists still don’t know where high-energy neutrinos are born. The three neutrinos’ proximity in time and space suggests the particles came from the same source, such as a flaring galaxy or an exploding star. But the scientists couldn’t rule out the possibility of a fluke — the triplet could simply have been the result of accidental alignment between unassociated neutrinos.

Eight different telescopes followed up on the neutrino triplet, checking for some sign of the particles’ origins. The telescopes, which searched for gamma rays, X-rays and other wavelengths of light, found nothing clearly associated with the particles. But scientists were able to rule out some possible explanations, like a nearby stellar explosion caused by the collapse of a dying star.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

More Stories from Science News on Particle Physics