In this artistic rendering, a blazar is accelerating protons that produce pions, which produce neutrinos and gamma rays. One neutrino’s path is represented by a blue line passing through Antarctica, while a gamma ray’s path is shown in pink. (IceCube / NASA Illustration) An array of detectors buried under a half-mile-wide stretch of Antarctic ice has traced the path of a single neutrino back to a supermassive black hole in a faraway galaxy, shedding light on a century-old cosmic ray mystery in the process. The discovery, revealed today in a trio of research papers published by the journal Science and The Astrophysical Journal, marks a milestone for the at the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Live video: It also marks a milestone for an observational frontier known as multi-messenger astronomy, which takes advantage of multiple observatories looking at the sky in different ways. Thanks to IceCube’s alert, more than a dozen telescopes were able to triangulate on the neutrino’s source. “No one telescope could have done this by themselves,” said IceCube lead scientist Francis Halzen, a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The source of the high-energy neutrino detected last Sept. 22 appears to be a giant elliptical galaxy with a rapidly spinning black hole at its center, 3.7 billion light-years from Earth. Such a galaxy is known as a blazar, and its signature feature is a pair of jets that spew radiation and subatomic particles along the axis of the black hole’s rotation. One of the blazar’s jets just happens to be pointed directly at Earth. Astronomers have known about the blazar, known as TXS 0506+056, for years. But before IceCube came on the scene, they had no way of associating it or any other source with cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are high-energy particles that reach Earth from space, and most of them carry an electrical charge. Such particles can be deflected by magnetic fields, or blocked by interactions with intervening matter. That makes it impossible to trace the particles’ paths to their source. Neutrinos are different: They don’t carry an electrical charge, have virtually no mass, and interact so weakly with other types of matter that they typically pass right through anything that gets in their way — including stars and planets. That means they travel in a straight line from their source. On rare occasions, a high-energy neutrino makes a direct hit on an atomic nucleus, setting off a subatomic chain reaction. It’s exactly that type of reaction that the $279 million IceCube Neutrino Observatory is designed to detect. The heart of the observatory is a three-dimensional array with thousands of light sensors, spread across a cubic kilometer of crystal-clear Antarctic ice deep beneath the surface. When a neutrino hits a nucleus, it triggers a characteristic flash of blue light that points in the direction of the neutrino’s origin. On Sept. 22, IceCube picked up on a strong flash and determined that it was sparked by a neutrino with an energy of about 300 trillion electron volts. That’s almost 50 times as energetic as the proton beams circulating in Europe’s Large Hadron Collider. Within a minute, an alert went out to other astronomers to focus their telescopes on the patch of sky associated with the neutrino source in the constellation Orion. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is buried at depths between 1.5 and 2.5 kilometers below the South Pole. The only visible equipment is the IceCube Lab, which hosts the computers that collect data from over 5,000 light sensors in the ice. In this artistic rendering, which incorporates a photo of the Ice Cube Lab, neutrino event IC170922 is shown in the ice below Antarctica’s surface. (IceCube Collaboration / NSF) Over the days that followed, the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope and the MAGIC Telescope in the Canary Islands detected a strong gamma-ray burst coming from TXS 0506+056. Other instruments, including the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and the NuSTAR X-ray telescope, picked up strong signals in multiple wavelengths from the same source. And when IceCube’s scientists looked back through their archives, they found evidence of another flare that apparently emanated from TXS 0506+056 in December 2014. “All the pieces fit together,” Albrecht Karle, a senior IceCube scientist from UW-Madison, said today in a news release. “The neutrino flare in our archival data became independent confirmation. Together with observations from the other observatories, it is compelling evidence for this blazar to be a source of extremely energetic neutrinos, and thus high-energy cosmic rays.” This star chart shows the location of the neutrino source, TXS 0506+056, as a blue set of crosshairs in the constellation Orion. The blazar is too distant and faint to be seen with the naked eye. (IceCube / NASA) For more than a century, astronomers have speculated that cosmic rays emanated from violent phenomena such as supernovae, black holes and colliding galaxies. Now they have more than speculation to go on. “It is interesting that there was a general consensus in the astrophysics community that blazars were unlikely to be sources of cosmic rays, and here we are,” Halzen said. “Now, we have identified at least one source that produces high-energy cosmic rays because it produces cosmic neutrinos.” Like last year’s , IceCube’s findings demonstrate the power of multi-messenger astronomy. “The era of multi-messenger astrophysics is here,” NSF Director France Cordova said in a statement. “Each messenger — from electromagnetic radiation, gravitational waves and now neutrinos — gives us a more complete understanding of the universe, and important new insights into the most powerful objects and events in the sky.” Cordova said “such breakthroughs are only possible through a long-term commitment to fundamental research and investment in superb research facilities.” “Multimessenger Observations of a Flaring Blazar Coincident With High-Energy Neutrino IceCube-170922A” and “Neutrino Emission From the Direction of the Blazar TXS 0506+056 Prior to the IceCube-170922A Alert,” are freely available on . The paper in is titled “A Multimessenger Picture of the Flaring Blazar TSX 0506+056: Implications for High-Energy Neutrino Emission and Cosmic Ray Acceleration.”
July 12, 2018
(The Francis Crick Institute) Scientists have developed a method to measure how well cancer drugs reach their targets inside the body. It shows individual cancer cells in a tumor in real time, revealing which cells interact with the drug and which cells the drug fails to reach. The findings could help clinicians decide the best course and delivery of treatment for cancer patients in the future.
July 12, 2018
(University of Basel) Electrical circuits are constantly being scaled down and extended with specific functions. A new method now allows electrical contact to be established with simple molecules on a conventional silicon chip. The technique promises to bring advances in sensor technology and medicine, as reported in the journal Nature by chemists from the University of Basel and researchers from IBM Research-Zurich in Rüschlikon.
July 12, 2018
(Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) EPFL physicists have now demonstrated experimentally the ability to coherently manipulate the wave function of a free electron down to the attosecond timescale (10-18 of a second). The team also developed a theory for creating zeptosecond (10-21 of a second) electron pulses, which could also be used to increase the energy yield of nuclear reactions.
July 12, 2018
Engineers work on New Shepard’s crew capsule at Blue Origin’s Kent factory. (Credit: Blue Origin) A new employment study indicates that roughly 3,000 people are directly employed by Washington state’s space industry, and roughly half of them are at , Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture. Most of Blue Origin’s 1,500 employees work at the company’s headquarters and production facility in Kent, Wash. So Erika Wagner, Blue Origin’s payload sales director, has a good grasp on what draw space-savvy engineers to the Seattle area. “When we ask our new employees why they’re coming … I’m going to guess that about half of them tell us that Seattle is part of the reason they say yes,” Wagner said today at a . “They have other options on the table, but they’d like to live here. They want to go hiking, or they want to go boating, or they want to have access to the symphony or the opera here.” Seattle’s blend of the great outdoors and a vibrant cultural scene adds to the region’s legacy in engineering, software and aerospace, fueled by Boeing, Microsoft and more recently Amazon. Most of Blue Origin’s employees stick around: Wagner said the turnover rate amounts to less than 4 percent of the workforce annually. But what is it that motivates the ones who leave? There’s a bit of irony in Wagner’s answer to that question. “A significant percentage of them say the reason they leave is Seattle,” Wagner said. “It’s the rising cost of living, it’s the weather, it’s the traffic, it’s the whatever. It’s very much both one of our strongest assets, and one of our biggest challenges.” The Seattle area’s assets for the space industry, and its challenges, were the focus of today’s forum. Panelists for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s forum on the space industry include EarthNow’s Kyu Hwang, Space Angels’ Joe Landon, Blue Origin’s Erika Wagner and Seattle author Sam Howe Verhovek. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) Economic activity traced specifically to the space industry still makes up a small share of the total aerospace industry in Washington state. The set total economic impact at $1.7 billion. In comparison, the economic impact of the wider industry, ranging from rockets to passenger jets to drones, . Nevertheless, the space industry’s local impact is growing rapidly, thanks to Blue Origin and other ventures ranging from century-old and decades-old to more recent startups such as and . Joe Landon, who serves as the chief financial officer for Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources and chairman of the Space Angels investment group, said Seattle’s space ventures often have to look far afield to find the talent they need. “We don’t have much home-grown talent,” Landon told the luncheon crowd. Wagner said there’s a particularly acute need for expertise in avionics, electrical engineering and computer science. “Most software engineers haven’t thought about being part of our industry,” she said. “It makes recruiting that much harder, especially when we’re competing against Silicon Valley startups for our talent pool here on the West Coast.”  For Kyu Hwang, EarthNow’s vice president for applications and customer development, technical expertise is just one part of the equation. “We also need a lot of innovation in business models,” he said. Bellevue, Wash.-based EarthNow, which plans to use a satellite constellation to beam down real-time video of our planet, . It’s still operating in semi-stealth mode, but Hwang said the venture is well into the process of enlisting traditional and not-so-traditional customers. “We really think real-time, on-demand-access, motion video … we think those three characteristics will enable Earth observation to tap into a mass market,” he said. The Seattle area’s rising profile in software engineering, data analysis and cloud computing is seen as a net plus for the future: As the space industry matures, software smarts are looming larger. That’s a big reason why SpaceX , about 1,000 miles away from its corporate headquarters in the Los Angeles area. Because of Washington state’s geography and population distribution, it’s not likely to ever play host to the spaceports that are available in other centers of the space industry, such as California, Florida and Texas. What’s more, the Evergreen State doesn’t have a NASA center to cozy up to. But Sam Howe Verhovek, a Seattle writer who’s the author of said the fact that the Pacific Northwest is off the beaten track may be a plus. “I’ve heard a couple of intriguing theories over the years, including, in a weird way, that it’s easier to fail here. It’s OK, it’s expected. It’s sort of part of a venture capital mentality,” Verhovek said at today’s forum. “You pick yourself up and dust yourself off. It’s what we do.”
July 11, 2018
(Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) The rise of genomics, the shift from considering genes singly to collectively, is adding a new dimension to medical care; biomedical researchers hope to use the information contained in human genomes to make better predictions about individual health, including responses to therapeutic drugs. A new computational tool developed through a collaboration between the University of Illinois and the Mayo Clinic combines multiple types of genomic information to make stronger predictions about what genomic features are associated with specific drug responses.
July 11, 2018
(University of California - San Diego) A team of bioengineers at UC San Diego has answered a question that has long puzzled neuroscientists, and may hold a key to better understanding the complexities of neurological disorders: Why are neuron axons designed the way they are? The answer--that they're designed to balance the speed that information flows into the neuron relative to the time it takes the neuron to process that information--seems intuitive, but has never been quantified until now.
July 11, 2018
(American Society of Agronomy) The compound urea is currently the most popular nitrogen soil fertilizer. It's a way to get plants the nitrogen they need to grow. There's just one problem with urease: it works too well! New research suggests farmers may have a choice in how they slow the release of nitrogen, depending on their soil's acidity.
July 11, 2018
(Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology) Researchers from Russia and Britain have demonstrated an artificial quantum system, in which a quantum bit interacts with an acoustic resonator in the quantum regime. This allows the familiar effects of quantum optics to be studied on acoustic waves and enables an alternative approach to quantum computer design, which is based on acoustics and could make quantum computers more stable and compact.
July 11, 2018