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Businessweek Archives

`Taking An X Ray Picture Of Our Universe'

Developments to Watch


Subatomic particles called neutrinos come from inside such violent environments in space as black holes, quasars, and pulsars. Now, these rare, minute particles could open a window into the great beyond. That's because physicist Francis L. Halzen of the University of Wisconsin in Madison has found a way to chart neutrinos that "will be like taking an X-ray picture of our universe."

In one of three international experiments on neutrino detection, Halzen's team and one from the University of California hope to turn the South Pole into a telescope by lowering radiation detectors 800 meters into the ice. Since ice has no natural radiation, it serves as a better backdrop than water or soil. The earth will help filter out other radiation, which unlike massless neutrinos, can't pass through its core. Occasionally a neutrino will collide with an atom inside the earth and turn into a muon, a garden-variety form of radiation. The muon will leave a trace of light on the detectors--which are calibrated in billionths of a second to reveal the path and direction of the neutrino turned muon. Scientists hope to cover a square kilometer with detectors.EDITED BY PAMELA J. BLACK

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