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have elucidated the flavor oscillation of neutrinos, and they have confirmed astrophysicists’ presumptions about the nu- clear energetics of stars and supernovae. The next generation of high-energy neutrino telescopes will also target multidis- ciplinary science. As the lightest of the fermions and the most weakly interacting of all known particles, neutrinos occupy an interesting corner of the standard model. One may hope that they will reveal the first and most dramatic signatures of new physics.
Over a decade IceCube will collect almost a million atmospheric-neutrino events, ranging in energy from 1011 to 1016 eV. That’s a hundred times AMANDA’s sample.12 And from distant sources, the collaboration expects to see neutri- nos with energies as high as 1018 eV. The data should address physics topics ranging from the relatively straightforward to the positively exotic.
Even in the absence of new physics, just measuring the predicted neutrino cross section at 1018 eV would be a pow- erful confirmation of the standard model. That measurement will also provide a high-magnification picture of the proton, resolving constituents (partons) carrying as little as 10–8 of the proton’s momentum. On the more exotic side, very high- energy, short-wavelength neutrinos might interact with the spacetime foam predicted by theories of quantum gravity. They would propagate like light traversing a crystal lattice and be delayed, with the delay depending on the neutrino’s energy. That would appear to the observer as a violation of Lorenz invariance.
In the end the possibilities are limited only by our imag- ination. Neutrino telescopes will search for signatures of the possible unification of all particle interactions (including gravity) at the TeV scale, as suggested by some theories with extra spatial dimensions. If WIMPs (weakly interacting mas- sive particles) make up the dark matter in the universe, they must be gravitationally captured in the Sun and Earth, where they are expected to produce high-energy neutrinos by an- nihilating each other. So neutrino telescopes might well iden- tify the particle nature of the dark matter.
The new-generation neutrino telescopes are the first in- struments big enough to map out the neutrino sky and thereby observe the high-energy cosmos, unblinded by in- terstellar radiation or dust. We don’t know what we will find, but experience tells us that with a new window we can ex- pect new discoveries.
We thank our IceCube collaborators, and we thank John Learned, Bob Stokstad, Sandy Miarecki, and Evelyn Malkus for comments on the draft of this article. Our thanks also to Juan Carlos Diaz-Velez for the simulated event displays in box 2.
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May 2008 Physics Today 35
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