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Coronae of Supermassive Black Holes May Be the Hidden Sources of Mysterious Cosmic Neutrinos

The origin of high-energy cosmic neutrinos observed by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, whose detector is buried deep in the Antarctic ice, is an enigma that has perplexed physicists and astronomers. A new model could help explain the unexpectedly large flux of some of these neutrinos inferred by recent neutrino and gamma-ray data. A paper by Penn State researchers describing the model, which points to the supermassive black holes found at the cores of active galaxies as the sources of these mysterious neutrinos, appears in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Kohta Murase, assistant professor of physics and of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and a member of Center for Multimessenger Astrophysics in the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos (IGC), who led the research, said:

Scientists combine information from all of these cosmic messengers to learn about events in the universe and to reconstruct its evolution in the burgeoning field of “multimessenger astrophysics.” For extreme cosmic events, like massive stellar explosions and jets from supermassive black holes, that create neutrinos, this approach has helped astronomers pinpoint the distant sources and each additional messenger provides additional clues about the details of the phenomena. For cosmic neutrinos above 100 TeV, previous research by the Penn State group showed that it is possible to have concordance with high-energy gamma rays and ultra-high-energy cosmic rays that fits with a multimessenger picture.

NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of Galaxy NGC 1068 with its active black hole shown as an illustration in the zoomed-in inset. A new model suggests that the corona around such supermassive black holes could be the source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos observed by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. (Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

However, there is growing evidence for an excess of neutrinos below 100 TeV that cannot simply be explained. Very recently, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory reported another excess of high-energy neutrinos in the direction of one of the brightest active galaxies, known as NGC 1068, in the northern sky. Murase said:

The new model suggests that the corona — the aura of superhot plasma that surrounds stars and other celestial bodies — around supermassive black holes found at the core of galaxies could be such a source. Analogous to the corona seen in a picture of the Sun during a solar eclipse, astrophysicists believe that black holes have a corona above the rotating disk of material, known as an accretion disk, that forms around the black hole through its gravitational influence.

This corona is extremely hot (with a temperature of about one billion degrees kelvin), magnetized, and turbulent. In this environment, particles can be accelerated, which leads to particle collisions that would create neutrinos and gamma rays, but the environment is dense enough to prevent the escape of high-energy gamma rays. Murase said:

There are projects under development that are designed specifically to explore such soft gamma-ray emission from space. Furthermore, upcoming and next-generation neutrino detectors, KM3Net in the Mediterranean Sea and IceCube-Gen2 in Antarctica will be more sensitive to the sources. The promising targets include NGC 1068 in the northern sky, for which the excess neutrino emission was reported, and several of the brightest active galaxies in the southern sky. Murase said:

Provided by: Sam Sholtis,   [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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