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First 'ghost particle' image of Milky Way galaxy captured by scientists

A composite image of an optical view of the Milky Way along with the first neutrino-based image.

A composite image of an optical view of the Milky Way along with the first neutrino-based image.

June 29, 2023

Elusive neutrinos reveal a portrait of our galaxy unlike any before.

From visible starlight to radio waves, the Milky Way galaxy has long been observed through the various frequencies of electromagnetic radiation it emits. Scientists have now revealed a uniquely different image of our galaxy by determining the galactic origin of thousands of neutrinos — invisible "ghost particles" which exist in great quantities but normally pass straight through Earth undetected. The neutrino-based image of the Milky Way is the first of its kind: a galactic portrait made with particles of matter rather than electromagnetic energy.

The breakthrough was achieved by a collaboration of researchers using the U.S. National Science Foundation-supported IceCube Neutrino Observatory at NSF's Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. The immense observatory detects the subtle signs of high-energy neutrinos from space by using thousands of networked sensors buried deep within a cubic kilometer of clear, pristine ice. The results were revealed at an event at Drexel University and published in the journal Science.

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The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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