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

Abstract

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.

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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). https://doi.org/10.1038/353331a0

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