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Supercomputing Center Helps Trace Origins Of A Tiny Particle Found In Antarctica

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
The discovery of a high-energy neutrino on Sept. 22, 2017, sent astronomers on a chase to locate its source -- a sueprmassive black hole in a distant galaxy.

For the first time, scientists have discovered the source of a vanishingly tiny particle called a neutrino that came from outside the Milky Way, with the help of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

The center's powerful computers helped trace the particle's origin to the collapse of a supermassive black hole nearly 4 billion light years away.

About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through your body every second. They're invisible to the eye, but when they react with water molecules at a high speed, they eminate a bluish light.

At a research center at the South Pole called IceCube, scientists have set up sensors deep in the ice, ready to detect that light when it appears. It did so in September, revealing one small portion of the path the neutrino took on its long journey.

"The interesting thing about neutrinos is that they basically travel in a straight line because they're unaffected by magnetism," said Derek Simmel, a computing specialist at the Supercomputing Center.

Even though neutrinos are among the most abundant particles in the universe, they are one of the least understood.

Simmel said learning more about neutrinos can help "explain the nature of the universe and everything about it." The knowledge can also aid scientists in unraveling the mysteries of the most extreme cosmic phenomena, such as black holes and supernovas.