Three times since 2016, ultra-high-energy particles have blasted up through the ice of Antarctica, setting off detectors in the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) experiment. ANITA is a machine dangling from a NASA balloon far above the frozen surface designed to study ultra-high-energy cosmic neutrinos by taking advantage of the ice sheets that blanket Antarctica. Neutrinos are ultra-lightweight and chargeless particles that almost never interact with other matter. Because of those properties, neutrinos can travel through entire planets without being affected. At least that’s true for the low-energy neutrinos we usually talk about. It’s a different story for the ultra-high-energy variety that we are talking about in this Elements.. These ultra-high-energy neutrinos have wider “cross sections,” meaning they’re more likely to collide with other particles as they pass and they don’t penetrate very far before they interact with something causing a cascade of particles that gives off what scientists describe as a “snap” of radio frequencies. In order to pick up these Askaryan pulses, scientists need a radio transparent medium somewhere without a lot of other radio signals, so the particle interaction can occur but the Askaryan pulses can still propagate. And that is why the ANITA experiment was flown over Antarctica.
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