Astrophysicists in Germany and North America have published plans to build the world’s largest neutrino telescope on the sea floor off the coast of Canada. The Pacific Ocean Neutrino Experiment (P-ONE) is designed to snare very-high-energy neutrinos generated by extreme events from beyond our galaxy. Neutrino telescopes observe the Cerenkov radiation that is emitted when neutrinos passing through the Earth interact very occasionally with atomic nuclei resulting in the production of fast-moving secondary particles. Being uncharged and exceptionally inert, neutrinos can penetrate gas and dust as they travel through the universe, allowing astronomers in principle to identify the exceptionally energetic phenomena that generate them. Photons from such events, in contrast, are absorbed on their journey. We are now on the verge of opening up neutrino astronomy.
P-ONE will consist of 7 groups of 10 detector strings creating an instrument volume of about 3 km3. It will detect rarer, higher-energy neutrinos, and will be most sensitive at a few tens rather than a handful of teraelectronvolts. It will also observe a different part of the sky, mainly capturing neutrinos from the southern hemisphere rather than the north. But there will be some overlap between the two, says Resconi, potentially allowing independent observations of the same event.
P-ONE will be located at a depth of about 2.6 km in the Cascadia Basin, some 200 km from the coast of British Columbia. As such, it will take advantage of pre-existing infrastructure – an 800 km-long loop of fibre-optic cable operated by the University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada that supplies power and moves data to and from existing sea-floor instruments. Having already confirmed that this site has the necessary optical properties by sending down two initial strings of light emitters and sensors in 2018, the P-ONE collaboration are now planning to deploy a steel cable with additional detectors to investigate the site. The next phase is to install the first part of the observatory—a ring containing seven 1 km-long strings—around the end of 2023. Using the results of this phase, the researchers will then apply for the bulk of the $50 million to $100 million needed to complete the project, with personnel costs adding roughly $100 million more with hopes that the full observatory will be installed and taking data by the end of the decade. In addition to delays caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it will be a challenge to ensure that the detectors work as planned—given the huge pressures and the presence of salt and sea creatures, which together make the seabed such a harsh environment.
President & CEO, Ocean Networks Canada, Victoria
Dr. Kathryn (Kate) Moran joined the University of Victoria in September 2011 as a Professor in the Faculty of Earth and Ocean Sciences and as Director of NEPTUNE Canada. In July 2012, she was promoted to the position of President & CEO, Ocean Networks Canada. Her previous appointment was Professor at the University of Rhode Island with a joint appointment in the Graduate School of Oceanography and the Department of Ocean Engineering. She also served as the Graduate School of Oceanography’s Associate Dean, Research and Administration. From 2009–2011, Moran was seconded to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where she served as an Assistant Director and focused on Arctic, polar, ocean, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and climate policy issues. Moran holds degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Rhode Island, and Dalhousie University. Her research focuses on marine geotechnics and its application to the study of paleoceanography, tectonics, and seafloor stability. She has authored more than 45 publications. Dr. Moran is a Fellow of the Canadian Society of Senior Engineers, FCSSE, among other honours.