New possibilities for particle physics with IceCube

27 April 2015

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory has measured neutrino oscillations via atmospheric muon-neutrino disappearance. This opens up new possibilities for particle physics with the experiment at the South Pole that was originally designed to detect neutrinos from distant cosmic sources.

IceCube records more than 100,000 atmospheric neutrinos a year, most of them muon neutrinos, and its sub-detector DeepCore allows the detection of neutrinos with energies from 100 GeV down to 10 GeV. These lower-energy neutrinos are key to IceCube’s oscillation studies. Based on current best-fit oscillation parameters, IceCube should see fewer muon neutrinos at energies around 25 GeV reaching the detector after passing through the Earth. Using data taken between May 2011 and April 2014, the analysis selected muon-neutrino candidates in DeepCore with energies in the region of 6–56 GeV. The detector surrounding DeepCore was used as a veto to suppress the atmospheric muon background. Nearly 5200 neutrino candidates were found, compared with the 6800 or so expected in the non-oscillation scenario. The reconstructed energy and arrival time for these events were used to obtain values for the neutrino-oscillation parameters, Δm322 = 2.72+0.19–0.20 × 10–3 ev2 and sin2 θ23 = 0.53+0.09–0.12. These results are compatible and comparable in precision to those of dedicated oscillation experiments.

The collaboration is currently planning the Precision IceCube Next Generation Upgrade (PINGU), in which a much higher density of optical modules in the whole central region will reduce the energy threshold to a few giga-electron-volts. By carefully measuring coherent neutrino interactions with electrons in the Earth (the Mikheyev–Smirnov–Wolfenstein effect), this should allow determination of the neutrino-mass hierarchy, and which neutrino flavour is heaviest.

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