Antarctica’s frozen ground spewed high energy particles as if they just traveled through our planet, continuing their path towards space. The cosmic ray was picked up by the ANITA experiment, which is short for the Antarctic Impulse Transient Antenna (the image above shows the antenna after it successfully landed).
Physicists know that this ray comes from space, it blasts into Earth and then goes back up again, but all the particles known to physicists (the ones that make up the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics), don’t do that. So the question is what particles would act this way?
Using NASA’s ANITA, scientists tried to find exotic particles like neutrinos. They rarely get close to the upper atmosphere, so the electronic equipment had to be sent up into the sky with a balloon. However, when it started searching for high-energy particles, the antenna spotted them coming not from above, but from below, meaning that the particles traveled through the entire planet.
Unlike the low-energy neutrinos that can pass through many miles of rock without being affected, the high-energy neutrinos have “large cross-sections.” Because of their properties, the high-energy neutrinos or other high-energy particles would crash into anything as they plunge into Earth – so they cannot reach the other side.
However, the flying antenna saw two cases of high-energy particles that passed through the Earth – and these phenomena shouldn’t have been possible. Scientists explain that if the high-energy particles spotted by ANITA were neutrinos, it would have seen neutrinos having a one-in-a-million chance to pass through Earth – and it saw two chances!
Does it make sense?
Although it doesn’t seem likely for this rare event to happen twice, there is a possible explanation. It would all make sense if this particle were a type never seen before by scientists. But this new particle means new physics, and it’s groundbreaking for all physics we’ve learned so far.
Until scientists gather more information on these exotic particles and find out what they could be, NASA’s team will launch a balloon again and spot some more weird particles that come out of Earth.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.