Detecting Neutrinos in the Antarctic Ice Shelf

Sub-zero temperature wireless link

April 2012 – The University of California in Irvine is embarking on an ambitious research project to detect and count ultra-high energy neutrinos coming from the Afar depths of the universe.  They have selected Afar Communications to provide the wireless network that retrieves the data captured by an array of detectors, which, when fully deployed, will consist of 960 stations in the Antarctic, covering a 30 x 30 km square.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that have no electrical charge and until recently were thought to be massless. Most neutrinos traversing the earth are generated in the Sun but the UC Irvine team is interested in the ultra-high energy neutrinos that come from the far regions of the universe.

The UC Irvine team, led by principal investigator Steven Barwick, developed a neutrino detector consisting of broadband radio antennas, pointing down and buried in the ice shelf, to detect radio pulses that result from the extremely rare collision of a high energy neutrino and an atom in the ice. The plan is to deploy a 960 detector array (named ARIANNA for Antarctic Ross Ice shelf ANtenna Neutrino Array ) which will record those radios pulses and then transmit that data, through the Afar radios, to the McMurdo station in the Antarctic.

Several stringent requirements for the radio communication system led to the selection of the Afar radios: 
  1. Extreme environment: the radios are deployed outdoors in the antarctic where temperatures can reach -40 C and below.
  2. Power consumption: Solar and wind are used to provide all the power needed at each station . It is imperative that all electronics consume as little power as possible.
  3. Low noise: The radio pulses that UC Irvine is trying to detect are extremely weak, so all the surrounding electronics and communication equipment needs to be uncommonly quiet.
The engineers at Afar worked closely with UC Irvine to provide a solution that met these demanding requirements. In 2012 UC Irvine successfully deployed four detector stations, each with an Afar radio, communicating with another Afar radio at the top of Mt. Discovery (46 km away), which then relays the data to a radio at the McMurdo station (75 km).  


Wireless network over ice