The National Science Foundation (NSF) has renewed a cooperative agreement with the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) to operate the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a 1-km-cubed particle detector buried 1.5 km deep in the ice beneath the South Pole.
In 2013, IceCube researchers made an important contribution to astrophysics when they reported the first detection of high energy cosmic neutrinos, opening a new astronomical window to the universe and some of its most violent phenomena.
The five-year, $35 million cooperative agreement calls for the continued operation and management of the observatory, which is located at NSF's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The agreement begins April 1, and may be renewed for another five-year period if the detector and collaboration continue to operate successfully.
Funding for IceCube comes through an award from the Division of Polar Programs in NSF's Geosciences Directorate and from the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) Division of Physics.
Headquartered at UW-Madison, IceCube includes a staff of nearly 60 scientists, engineers and technicians in Madison. The collaboration that operates the IceCube observatory includes individuals representing 47 institutions from 12 different countries. It includes sub-awards to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Michigan State University, and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
2 ns precision
Since IceCube's inception 15 years ago and the completion of its construction five years ago—centered around a detector array consisting of 5000 optical sensors frozen in the ice beneath the South Pole—has been administered through UW-Madison, in recent years under the auspices of the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC). The 5000 photomultiplier-tube (PMT)-based sensors detect the arrival of neutrinos to a time precision of 2 ns.
Recent reports from the IceCube collaboration have confirmed the observatory's detection of high-energy neutrinos from beyond our galaxy—so-called cosmic neutrinos.
"There are many technical challenges underlying the operation of a large neutrino observatory at the South Pole, that would be hard to anticipate," says Kael Hanson, IceCube's director of operations and a UW-Madison professor of physics.
Francis Halzen, a UW-Madison professor of physics and the principal investigator for the project, says the performance of the IceCube detector has steadily improved and a key goal will be to speed up the analysis of neutrinos of interest in order to quickly alert other observatories.
"We're going to detect interesting neutrinos in real time and we can send word to other observatories," he says. "If we can do it in real time, we can be much more effective and we can alert, for example, optical observatories and other detectors" for combined observing. If neutrino detectors, and possibly also gravitational-wave detectors, can provide early warnings to other telescopes, "We might have the astronomical event of the 21st century," Halzen says.