Origins ANTARCTICA, Scientific Journeys from McMurdo to the Pole
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  © Per Olof Hulth
  Four days after deployment, ice has formed around the module, and a crack appears in the wall.

A literary essay about AMANDA by Francis Halzen
page 10

Neutrino oscillation should prove an equally intriguing and elusive quarry. If neutrinos, contrary to current assumptions, are relatively massive—say, between ten and fourteen electron volts—they should oscillate fairly quickly. In that case, even short-range tests, such as the 450-mile neutrino beam that investigators at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, are planning to aim at a neutrino detector in Minnesota, should confirm oscillations. (As it happens, the Fermilab beam passes right under my office in Madison.) If neutrinos have almost no mass, it may take a detector as large as ours, observing neutrinos that come from as far as 10 billion light-years away, to see oscillations. Some of us have even been dreaming about sending a beam from Fermilab to the South Pole: a 6,000-mile trip that may be just long enough to reveal oscillations, if neutrinos have the mass that the Super-K data suggest.

In the next five years we plan to sink seventy more strings of photomultipliers, enabling the telescope to keep watch over a full cubic kilometer of ice. Even then, in some ways, our telescope will be a pretty crude instrument. Compared to a standard optical telescope, its resolution is a joke: as of this writing, it is accurate only to within two degrees of arc—roughly four times the diameter of the full moon—though we hope to cut that margin in half. AMANDA’S size alone will give it tremendous power, of course, enabling it to detect gamma-ray bursts and super-massive black holes several times a year. And yet, spectacular though they are, such cosmic light shows should prove no more than opening acts for the main event—whatever that may be.

IN THE PAST, every time astronomers have set their sights on a new wavelength, they have discovered more than they expected. Ricardo Giacconi built an X-ray detector to study solar X rays reflected by the moon, and found neutron and binary stars instead. Karl G. Jansky built an antenna to study short-wave radio interference and discovered radio galaxies. Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson focused on microwaves and stumbled on the cosmic background radiation, confirming the existence of the big bang. In each case, nature was more imaginative than the people who probed it. If, after nearly twenty years of working on AMANDA, we only discover what we have set out to discover, it will be, in many ways, the most disappointing result imaginable. As Edward W. "Rocky" Kolb, an astrophysicist at Fermilab, put it: "With neutrino astronomy, the real surprise would be that there were no surprises."

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