The planned Neutrino detector in China could end up being quite a deep dive into the field of astrophysics. The country has made ambitious plans to construct the world’s largest underwater telescope named the Tropical Deep-sea Neutrino Telescope (TRIDENT), which is set to delve into the mysteries of the universe by hunting for particles known as neutrinos.
Planned to be anchored 11,500 feet (3,500 meters) below the surface of the ocean in the Western Pacific, the TRIDENT aims to unlock the secrets of cosmic rays, and try to observe neutrinos through detection of possible momentary flashes of light emanating from the depths.
Observing the Elusive Ghost Particles
Neutrinos are often referred to as “ghost particles,” as they offer a significant challenge to particle physicists due to their elusive nature. These subatomic particles possess extremely tiny amounts of mass and lack an electric charge, and because of this, they seem to pass through ordinary matter without any interaction. This means, most things we are able to build to detect these neutrinos have to be quite sensitive in order to not be ‘transparent’ to them in a sense.
The neutrinos under investigation by TRIDENT are not confined to any specific location. They are generated through a variety of processes, such as the nuclear fusion within stars, colossal supernova eruptions, and even in man-made particle accelerators and nuclear reactors on Earth. They are as abundant as light photons and yet, detecting these neutrinos remains a difficult task, due to their limited interaction with matter.
However, they do seem to occasionally interact with water molecules to create signature flashes of light, which scientists can carefully analyze to decipher crucial information about their energy and probable sources. Even this detection takes sensitive equipment though, and the TRIDENT neutrino detector aims to create such conditions.
The TRIDENT Neutrino Detector
The TRIDENT’s mission is to focus on slowing down these ghostly entities, which is key to being able to observe them, and to trace the origins of these neutrinos. They can be emitted from anything such as distant spectacular exploding stars to collisions of galaxies billions of light-years away.
Unlike traditional land-based telescopes, the TRIDENT will be positioned near the equator, in order to offer a unique advantage. Xu Donglian, the project’s chief scientist said, “As TRIDENT is near the equator, it can receive neutrinos coming from all directions with the rotation of the Earth, enabling all-sky observation without any blind spots.” They have found a favorable site for the neutrino detector telescope operation near the equator due to this reason.
To increase the likelihood of capturing these neutrinos, TRIDENT neutrino detector boasts an elaborate design. The design will consist of more than 24,000 optical sensors strung across 1,211 lines, each measuring 2,300 feet (700m) in length. The large telescope will form a Penrose tiling pattern across a diameter of 4 kilometers(2.5 miles).
In contrast, the current largest neutrino detector – IceCube – located in Antarctica, only covers a monitoring area of 1 cubic km (0.24 cubic miles). With a scanning range of 7.5 cubic kilometers(1.7 cubic miles). The team expects that TRIDENT will outperform existing technologies significantly, with potential to revolutionize our understanding of neutrinos and deepen our knowledge of the universe.
The neutrino detector project is gearing up for a pilot launch in 2026, with the full-fledged telescope expected to start capturing data by 2030. In a recent publication in Nature Astronomy, the research team behind the neutrino detector TRIDENT said that they are committed to push the boundaries of neutrino telescope technology, in hopes of finding groundbreaking discoveries in the field of astrophysical neutrino sources.
We will have to wait for the revelations that TRIDENT will unveil, hopefully shedding light on the enigmatic secrets of the cosmos, and sharing the data globally.