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UH in Final Phase to Receive Multi-Million Dollar NASA Grant

Grant will Support High Energy Physics Project

University of Hawaiʻi
Peter Gorham, 808/956.9157
Physics & Astronomy
John Learned, 808/956.2964
Physics & Astronomy
Posted: Nov 4, 2003

HONOLULU — NASA announced today that the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa has been selected as one of 5 candidates for the 2004 Explorer Program Missions for its ANITA (Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna) project. The 5-year grant is estimated to be worth $32 to $35 million with $8 million going directly to the university in support of programs related to the project. After completing an initial study phase NASA is expected to give the final go ahead in June.

"NASA‘s continued support of this project is a clear indication that UH is on the cutting edge of neutrino research and development," said UH President Evan Dobelle. "The resources being invested in Hawai'i through UH are tremendous and continue to grow due in large part to the dedication and drive of our very talented faculty and researchers."

ANITA is the first long duration balloon project ever selected as part of the Explorer program. UH research and development for the program began in early 2003 with an $8.2 million grant from NASA space research and technology. ANITA is designed to view the Antarctic ice sheet from horizon to horizon using a sophisticated array of antennas to "listen" for sharp bursts of radio waves emitted by cosmic high energy neutrinos as they interact deep within the ice sheet, producing what amounts to a mini bolt of lightning in the ice sheet.

"It is exciting to see how quickly NASA has moved to support this project. We first proposed it in late 2001, and with this move to the Explorer program, high energy neutrino astronomy has now entered the mainstream of NASA's interests," said UH Mānoa Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy and ANITA Principal Investigator Peter Gorham. "I think it shows the foresight and flexibility of NASA, something we don't really think of with an agency that big."

Antarctica was selected as the best site because its ice is completely transparent to radio waves. Thus at the altitudes of 120,000 ft attained by NASA high-altitude balloons, ANITA can simultaneously monitor over a million cubic kilometers of ice, turning the entire Antarctic continent into an enormous neutrino telescope.

UH has a long history of activity in neutrino research, having been involved in experiments at accelerators and in mines and the ocean for more than 25 years. In particular, the UH team played a prominent role in the 1987 discovery of neutrinos from Supernova 1987A, heralding the birth of neutrino astronomy and setting many limits on neutrino properties, such as mass. The discovery was made with the IMB detector, the first massive underground nucleon decay search instrument and neutrino detector, which was built in a 2000-foot deep Morton Salt mine near Cleveland, Ohio in the 1980s.

UH also played a key role in the analysis and discovery of muon neutrino oscillations, and hence neutrino mass, in the Super-Kamiokande detector in 1998, a discovery that received international coverage and is now heralded as the most important of the 1990s in elementary particle physics.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that interact so rarely with other matter that one could pass untouched through a wall of lead stretching from the earth to the moon. They‘re abundantly produced during nuclear fusion, the reaction that lights the sun and other stars. Anti-neutrinos are created in fission reactions such as those that drive nuclear power plants. Splitting a single atomic nucleus into two smaller nuclei often yields radioactive nuclei that decay and emit an electron and an anti-neutrino.

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