An account of a telescope that “is unlike any other telescope you’ve ever seen or heard of, a marvel of science “buried more than a mile deep in the ice at the geographic South Pole.”
Occupying a cubic kilometer under the ice at the South Pole is a huge instrument dubbed one of the “seven wonders of modern astronomy.” It doesn’t search for light like a telescope but rather ghostly subatomic particles called neutrinos that fill the universe. In this enthusiastic account of Project IceCube, physicist Bowen (Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming, 2007, etc.) explains that nuclear reactions produce neutrinos. They gush from stars, the sun, and earthly reactors and accelerators. Billions pass harmlessly through your fingertip every second, often after passing through the Earth or across the universe. Almost nothing stops a neutrino, but the key word is “almost.” An immense device operated by patient observers will occasionally detect one. All require massive shielding to keep out the far more common cosmic rays. After describing competing projects, many still in operation thousands of feet underground or deep under water, Bowen gets down to business with a hair-raising account of 20 years of misery at the South Pole as a team of physicists and engineers suffered, repeatedly failed, and eventually succeeded in drilling 60 holes a mile deep, lowering complex electronics, and letting the ice freeze around them. The instrument works; since Project IceCube’s completion in 2010, a few dozen distant neutrinos have made themselves known. Bowen works hard to explain their role in the quantum mechanical world. This requires mentioning other arcane subatomic particles, but, like many popular science writers, the author spends more time delivering lively journalistic accounts of the colorful scientists involved.
Readers who have forgotten college physics may not understand much about neutrinos, but they will enjoy reading about those who do.