Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Observation of muons using the polar ice cap as a Cerenkov detector


DETECTION of the small flux of extraterrestrial neutrinos expected at energies above 1 TeV, and identification of their astrophysical point sources, will require neutrino telescopes with effective areas measured in square kilometres—much larger than detectors now existing1–3. Such a device can be built only by using some naturally occurring detecting medium of enormous extent: deep Antarctic ice is a strong candidate. A neutrino telescope could be constructed by drilling holes in the ice with hot water into which photomultiplier tubes could be placed to a depth of 1 km. Neutrinos would be recorded, as in underground neutrino detectors using water as the medium, by the observation of Cerenkov radiation from secondary muons. We have begun the AMANDA (Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array) project to test this idea, and here we describe a pilot experiment using photomultiplier tubes placed into Arctic ice in Greenland. Cerenkov radiation from muons was detected, and a comparison of count rate with the expected muon flux indicates that the ice is very transparent, with an absorption length greater than 18 m. Our results suggest that a full-scale Antarctic ice detector is technically quite feasible.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. The DUMAND Collaboration Rep. No. HDC-3-88 (Hawaii DUMAND Center, 1988).

  2. Barwick, S. W. et al. in Proc. 3rd Int. Workshop on Neutrino Telescopes, Venice, 1991 (in the press).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Halzen, F., Learned, J. & Stanev, T. AIP Conf. Proc. 198 (eds Mullan, D. J. et al) 39–51 (American Institute of Physics, New York, 1988).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Miyake, S. Proc. 13th international Cosmic Ray Conference Vol. 5, 3638–3655 (University of Denver, Colorado, 1973).

  5. Davis, G. E. J. opt. Soc. Am. 45, 572–581 (1955).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Park, H. S. thesis, Univ. Michigan (1985).

  7. Warren, S. G. Appl. Optics. 23, 1206–1225 (1984).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Trodahl, H. J., Buckley, R. G. & Brown, S. Appl. Optics 26, 3005–3017 (1987).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Gow, A. J. & Williamson, T. Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory Research Rep. 339 (1975).

  10. Smith, N. J. T. et al. Nucl. Instrum. Meth. Phys. Res. A276, 622–627 (1989).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Sullivan, J. D. Nucl. Instrum. Meth. 95, 5–11 (1971).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lowder, D., Miller, T., Price, P. et al. Observation of muons using the polar ice cap as a Cerenkov detector. Nature 353, 331–333 (1991).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing