Ice telescope in Antarctica to probe deep space

Physicists have built an Analog Devices components into an Antarctic ‘Ice’ Telescope, which they hope will help decode the mysteries of space.

The Analog Devices’ data converters and amplifiers, which are buried two kilometres under solid ice on one of the coldest continents on Earth, are hoped to help scientists at the South Pole build the world’s largest telescope to search for the smallest subatomic particles known to humankind.

The “underground” telescope project, known as IceCube, uses a cubic kilometre of pure, ultra-translucent ice at the South Pole as a telescopic “window” or particle detector to search the universe for its smallest known particles, called neutrinos. Neutrinos are subatomic particles that lack an electric charge produced by the decay of radioactive elements and elementary particles. Neutrinos travel at near the speed of light and are so tiny that they can typically pass through solid matter without colliding with any atoms. However when neutrinos collide with an atom, light energy is emitted that can help detect the presence and direction of these sub-atomic particles.

IceCube will search for neutrinos from astrophysical sources, including such as exploding stars, gamma ray bursts, and cataclysmic phenomena involving black holes and neutron stars. It uses Antarctica’s ice sheet as the largest instrumented volume of ice/water in the world.

It is said that the Analog Devices data converters and amplifiers are installed in more than 5,000 of these DOMS. The DOMs, which are 13–inch-diameter glass pressure spheres, are deployed under the ice on a cable at depths of between 1.5 km and 2.5 km. Over the next 25 years while embedded in ice, the DOMs will detect and transmit experimental data about particle collisions.

The construction of the IceCube underground telescope will be completed in 2011. To install the DOMS, a hot water drill shoots 200 gallons per minute of 190° F water at 1,000 psi to melt 1-km to 2-km holes in the Antarctica ice. After the ice-holes are opened, cables beaded with 60 neutrino-detecting DOMs are lowered into the 200,000 gallons of melted ice. The ice refreezes in about 24 hours encasing the DOMs and ADI’s converters and amplifiers in temperatures ranging from -20°C to -30°C. The final seven ice holes will be drilled next year for a total of 86 ice holes with 60 DOMs each.