Origins ANTARCTICA, Scientific Journeys from McMurdo to the Pole
Ideas Tools Place Live Field Notes
  © Per Olof Hulth
  Eighteen hours after the deployment began, the camera is at 2360 meters. The walls begin to close in on the module as the water in the column refreezes.

A literary essay about AMANDA by Francis Halzen
page 9

The bubbles were the real problem, however. A kilometer beneath the surface, we had been told, there would be just a few bubbles, and those would be no more than a micron in diameter. Instead, bubbles were everywhere, and they were fifty times larger than predicted. (We later found a paper on bubbles in ice cores that corroborated our results. But I suspect that some glaciologists still do not believe us.) After a good deal of data analysis and modeling, we predicted that the bubbles would disappear below 1,400 meters. But though we were eventually proved right, we had lost a year by then and still had to go back to drill some new holes.

THIS PAST SUMMER, the second phase of AMANDA was finally calibrated and the third phase was begun. Our telescope is now made up of 420 photomultipliers on thirteen separate strands, sunk between 1,500 and 2,000 meters beneath the Antarctic ice. The photomultipliers are working without a hitch, the telemetry data from the drill and in situ laser measurements agree on their architecture, and the telescope is detecting neutrinos. If the project as a whole has been a roller-coaster ride—one so exciting that we often failed to notice when we were hitting bottom—we are now, undeniably, at a peak. After years of being consumed by engineering problems, we can now at least concentrate on physics. Within days of calibrating the telescope, the intercontinental E-mails that buzz between us changed topics from scattering angle and photomultiplier noise to dark matter, gamma-ray bursts and neutrino oscillations.

Although we have yet to mine three-quarters of our data, we have already begun to follow some veins of interesting science. Theorists have speculated for a decade or so, for instance, that the dark matter in the universe is made up of supersymmetric particles known as neutralinos. According to that theory, most neutralinos are trapped at the centers of stars and planets, where standard instruments cannot detect them. When neutralinos collide at the center of the earth, however, they ought to generate high-energy neutrinos, which AMANDA can detect.

Early on, an investigator in our Stockholm group noted that a muon had skittered up one of AMANDA’s strings, illuminating the photomultipliers in sequence like a string of Christmas lights. Of all the neutrinos that had streamed through AMANDA from known cosmic sources, we calculated that only three neutrinos should have aligned randomly with the center of the earth. Yet when we looked at our data, we tentatively identified nine such events. Unfortunately, when we went back over the numbers, the discrepancy between the number of predicted and observed events largely evaporated.

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