Research Article

Evidence for High-Energy Extraterrestrial Neutrinos at the IceCube Detector

Science  22 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6161,
DOI: 10.1126/science.1242856

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Structured Abstract

Introduction

Neutrino observations are a unique probe of the universe’s highest-energy phenomena: Neutrinos are able to escape from dense astrophysical environments that photons cannot and are unambiguous tracers of cosmic ray acceleration. As protons and nuclei are accelerated, they interact with gas and background light near the source to produce subatomic particles such as charged pions and kaons, which then decay, emitting neutrinos. We report on results of an all-sky search for these neutrinos at energies above 30 TeV in the cubic kilometer antarctic IceCube observatory between May 2010 and May 2012.

Embedded Image

A 250 TeV neutrino interaction in IceCube. At the neutrino interaction point (bottom), a large particle shower is visible, with a muon produced in the interaction leaving up and to the left. The direction of the muon indicates the direction of the original neutrino.

Methods

We have isolated a sample of neutrinos by rejecting background muons from cosmic ray showers in the atmosphere, selecting only those neutrino candidates that are first observed in the detector interior rather than on the detector boundary. This search is primarily sensitive to neutrinos from all directions above 60 TeV, at which the lower-energy background atmospheric neutrinos become rare, with some sensitivity down to energies of 30 TeV. Penetrating muon backgrounds were evaluated using an in-data control sample, with atmospheric neutrino predictions based on theoretical modeling and extrapolation from previous lower-energy measurements.

Results

We observed 28 neutrino candidate events (two previously reported), substantially more than the Embedded Image expected from atmospheric backgrounds, and ranging in energy from 30 to 1200 TeV. With the current level of statistics, we did not observe significant clustering of these events in time or space, preventing the identification of their sources at this time.

Discussion

The data contain a mixture of neutrino flavors compatible with flavor equipartition, originate primarily from the Southern Hemisphere where high-energy neutrinos are not absorbed by Earth, and have a hard energy spectrum compatible with that expected from cosmic ray accelerators. Within our present knowledge, the directions, energies, and topologies of these events are not compatible with expectations for terrestrial processes, deviating at the 4σ level from standard assumptions for the atmospheric background. These properties, in particular the north-south asymmetry, generically disfavor any purely atmospheric explanation for the data. Although not compatible with an atmospheric explanation, the data do match expectations for an origin in unidentified high-energy galactic or extragalactic neutrino accelerators.

Extraterrestrial Neutrinos

Neutrinos are thought to be produced in astrophysical sources outside our solar system but, up until recently, they had only been observed from one supernova in 1987. Aartsen et al. (10.1126/science.1242856; see the cover) report data obtained between 2010 and 2012 with the IceCube neutrino detector that reveal the presence of a high-energy neutrino flux containing the most energetic neutrinos ever observed, including 28 events at energies between 30 and 1200 TeV. Although the origin of this flux is unknown, the findings are consistent with expectations for a neutrino population with origins outside the solar system.

Abstract

We report on results of an all-sky search for high-energy neutrino events interacting within the IceCube neutrino detector conducted between May 2010 and May 2012. The search follows up on the previous detection of two PeV neutrino events, with improved sensitivity and extended energy coverage down to about 30 TeV. Twenty-six additional events were observed, substantially more than expected from atmospheric backgrounds. Combined, both searches reject a purely atmospheric origin for the 28 events at the 4σ level. These 28 events, which include the highest energy neutrinos ever observed, have flavors, directions, and energies inconsistent with those expected from the atmospheric muon and neutrino backgrounds. These properties are, however, consistent with generic predictions for an additional component of extraterrestrial origin.

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