Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory 2016

Update

What Are They Doing?

A hole drilled for a string of IceCube light detectors. Photo by Casey O'Hara.A hole drilled for a string of IceCube light detectors. Photo by Casey O'Hara. How do you find something that isn't directly visible? That's the challenge faced by the team who developed the IceCube neutrino detector under the ice at the South Pole. Just as X-rays allow us to see bone fractures, and MRIs help doctors find damage to soft tissue, neutrinos will reveal new information about the universe that can't be seen directly. The in-ice particle detector at the South Pole records the interactions of neutrinos which are nearly massless sub-atomic messenger particles. Neutrinos are incredibly common (about 100 trillion pass through your body as you read this) subatomic particles that have no electric charge and almost no mass. They are created by radioactive decay and nuclear reactions, such as those in the sun and other stars. Neutrinos rarely react with other particles; in fact, most of them pass through objects (like the earth) without any interaction. This makes them ideal for carrying information from distant parts of the universe, but it also makes them very hard to detect.

All neutrino detectors rely on observing the extremely rare instances when a neutrino does interact with a proton or neutron. This transforms the neutrino into a charged particle of the same type as the neutrino flavor (electron, muon, or tau). Muons are charged particles that can travel for 5-10 miles (8-16 kilometres) through matter depending on their energy, and generate detectable light in translucent media.

IceCube is made up of thousands of sensitive light detectors embedded in a cubic kilometre of ice between 1450 m and 2450 m below surface. The sensors are deployed on strings in the ice holes that were made using a hot water drill. IceCube detects about 100,000 neutrinos a year, and has a projected life time of two decades. The data collected will be used to make a "neutrino map" of the universe and to learn more about astronomical phenomena, like gamma ray bursts, black holes, exploding stars, and other aspects of nuclear and particle physics. However, the true potential of IceCube is discovery; the opening of each new astronomical window leads to unexpected discoveries.

Where Are They?

The IceCube building. Photo by Katey Shirey.The IceCube building. Photo by Katey Shirey. The team works at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica—the southernmost continually inhabited place on the planet. The IceCube site is about one kilometer from the South Pole Station, which supplies the necessary logistics of food, power, and shelter. Despite the cold outside, life inside the station is relatively luxurious with comfortable beds, cooked meals, and showers twice a week. The South Pole is reached by plane from McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica from the end of October through February, after which time temperatures become too low for planes to operate safely. About 40 people stay there the rest of the year, which is known as wintering over. IceCube has two people dedicated to overseeing the operation of the telescope during this period at the South Pole.

Journals

Tommy
Want to know what life is like in one of the most extreme and remote location on the earth? Interested in learning what a neutrino is and why IceCube's looking for them? Join me and my students for Antarctica Community Night where you'll get these questions answered and more! Wednesday, April 5th 6:00pm - 7:00pm Washington-Lee High School's Little Theater We'll start with a short presentation about my expedition to the South Pole, followed by stations (led by IB Physics students) where you can learn how a DOM works, take a selfie wearing Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, and...
Antarctic Sceneary
McMurdo to Christchurch to Auckland to Los Angeles to Washington D.C. After many adventures crammed into just a few days at McMurdo, it was time to start the long journey home. I hopped on none other than Ivan the Terra Bus. No less terrible than the first ride. I'm barely taller than Ivan's wheels. He's a monster! Instead of flying on a Hercules (LC-130) as I’d done before, this time I was scheduled for a C-17, also known as the Globe Master. This plane is much bigger, but still doesn’t have many windows. As a strange coincidence, I got to sit next to none other than Anthony...
Sastrugi1
Antarctic Photography Here at McMurdo I met Dan Pekol, a guy who just got back from the South Pole Traverse. Each summer, tractors make a trip to the South Pole Station from McMurdo Station. Pulled behind them in sleds are resources (mainly fuel) to be delivered. This is a 21,067-mile roundtrip traverse. Considering the tractors go an average of 8 miles per hour when pulling the sleds, it ended up taking 41 days to complete this year’s journey (23 days there, 18 days back). Along the way, Dan took some absolutely stunning picture of the Antarctic landscape. Perhaps most interesting are the...
Boarding LC130
Goodbye South Pole We were scheduled to leave the South Pole Friday morning. In true South Pole fashion, our flight was delayed and then cancelled. But, there was another McMurdo-bound flight coming in Friday evening so we were bumped onto that one. We waited around the station in suspense – would this flight be cancelled too? Part of me was excited to leave the South Pole, the first step in returning to my life back home, the other part of me wanted to stay for the winter. I’ve really grown to love the South Pole! As it turns out, the flight did come in with no problems, despite the rare...
ARO
Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) Just a quarter mile walk away from the station is the Atmospheric Research Observatory, more commonly called ARO (pronounced “arrow”). It sits in the “Clean Air Sector” upwind of the station and its powerplant. Gavin and Dave conduct research, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), here. You may remember these guys from my previous entry about the Ozone Balloon Launch. The Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) at the South Pole. There’s loads of cool research going on at ARO: Ozone, water vapor, black carbon, halocarbons...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates:
24 December 2016 to 1 February 2017
Location: South Pole, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: IceCube

Meet the Team

Kate Miller's picture
Washington-Lee High School
Arlington, VA
United States

Kate grew up a competitive gymnast, but it wasn't until a high school physics class that she could truly make sense of the twists and flips. Her curiosity was sparked as her two passions began to merge. Kate continued to study physics at the University of Michigan, and later earned a Master's of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Now, Kate helps students explore their own curiosities at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. She looks forward to sharing her Antarctic experiences with her students, hoping to deepen their interest in physics by discussing cutting-edge research about our universe.

Jim Madsen's picture
University of Wisconsin River Falls
River Falls, WI
United States

Dr. Madsen is the chair of the Physics Department at UW-River Falls and Associate Director of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory where he directs the education and outreach program. His research interests include heliophysics and astrophysics, which he has studied at his various projects in Antarctica. In addition to research, Dr. Madsen is committed to reaching a broad audience beyond the research community. He is involved in education and outreach for the IceCube project including professional development courses for teachers and science and math instruction for the UWRF Upward Bound Program. He collaborates with a number of programs and institutions in addition to PolarTREC, including the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, UW-River Falls Upward Bound and McNair Programs, and service groups (Rotary International, Boy and Girl Scouts, university alumni associations, etc.). You can read more about Dr. Madsen's work here and here.

"Working in Antarctica is a wonderful adventure, and it is great to provide opportunities for others to have this awesome experience."

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Latest Comments

Arctic and Antarctic ...in Latin means bear, and then, no bear. It is solely a coincidence. However ,a good way to remember the constellations in the sky and the fauna on earth.
Hi Chloe! So glad you're thinking about living and working in Antarctica. It's a very special place and I highly recommend it. I spent more time at the South Pole Station than I did at McMurdo, but...
Hi! I am thinking about living and working at the McMurdo Station. I was wondering if they provide laundry detergent and what kind? I have sensitive allergies and can only use free and clear(no...
Thanks for following along, Stacy! I will say the jet lag is...not something to be desired right now. But I swear the cold wasn't that bad! Yes, Anthony Bourdain was in Antarctica filming "Parts...
Welcome Home, Kate! It was so great traveling with you. What a fabulous tour guide you have been! I really feel like I got to ride along with you -- except I didn't have to suffer the cold or jet lag...