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Listening Posts

July 19, 2011

In 2005, an Italian physicist set out to catch the sound of particles known as neutrinos. Instead, he caught the clicks of whales ... the cries of dolphins ... and the churning of ships.

Giorgio Riccobene was looking for a new way to detect neutrinos, which may be produced by the remnants of exploding stars, and by the most powerful explosions in the universe, known as gamma-ray bursts.

Scientists were placing light detectors in the Mediterranean Sea to detect flashes of light produced when neutrinos hit water molecules. Riccobene realized that such collisions could also produce sound. So he placed underwater microphones on one of the Mediterranean detectors.

The experiment ran for a year, but it didn't catch any neutrinos.

It did catch lots of other sounds, though -- the sounds of living organisms, earthquakes, and ships passing overhead.

The sounds proved so helpful to biologists that it led to the creation of a network of underwater listening stations across the Mediterranean, the North Sea, and the western Pacific. And it provided helpful data in the quest to listen for neutrinos in the future -- efforts that are certain to hear the cacophany of life beneath the surface of the sea.

More about the search for neutrinos tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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