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  19-02-2010: "A GIGANTIC TOWER AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA TO SCAN THE FRONTIERS OF THE UNIVERSE" 
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� Copyright 2002 INFN The use of photos is free of charge. Please request authorisation from the INFN Communication Office




A tower, 600 metres in height, has been anchored off the coast of Sicily at a depth of 2000 metres: this is the first step towards the construction of the underwater telescope known as "KM3", which will be used to observe neutrinos, messengers of the "violent" Universe which come from the most remote parts of the Cosmos. This constitutes the amazing conclusion of Phase 2 of the Nemo Project, the underwater observatory for neutrinos of the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics). At 4:00 a.m. on February 14th, the installation of a tower off the coast of Catania, Sicily, was completed; in an operation that lasted about 10 hours, the tower, which is about twice as high as the Eiffel Tower, was lowered from the ship "Certamen" and installed on the sea floor at a depth of more than 2000 metres. The installation was "monitored" and filmed by an underwater robot of the INFN.
The objective of the Nemo Project, in which 80 Italian researchers are involved, is to design, realise, and test prototypes of key components of an even more ambitious international project: the underwater telescope KM3 (cubic kilometre).
The success of the placement of the Nemo tower, which the international community has also adopted as base module of the KM3 telescope to be installed in the Mediterranean, constitutes an important verification of the project and paves the way for the construction phase.

How it works
The Nemo 2 tower is kept in a vertical position by a buoy on the water's surface. The tower is equipped with 80 sensors whose main purpose is to photograph the flashes produced by the interaction of water and high energy neutrinos. These particles originate from remote parts of the Universe; when they reach the Earth, they pass through it and come out at the bottom of the sea, continuing their journey. The 80 sensors will identify the neutrinos, recording the small flashes caused by the particles that are generated by the impact of neutrinos with water (known as "muons"). Now that the Nemo tower has been successfully installed, a fully equipped tower will soon be placed at a depth of 3500 metres at the underwater station at Capo Passero (Sicily); this tower will send the data collected to the ground station through an already functioning 100-km optical-electric cable.

From the abysses to the galaxies
Neutrinos reach the Earth (and pass through it) from the most remote parts of the Cosmos, interacting very little with matter and, given that they are neutral particles, without undergoing deflections caused by magnetic fields. They are the most penetrating messengers of the "violent" Universe and the key to solving the mystery of the origin of cosmic rays, a rain of charged particles which continuously bombard the Earth with energies that are millions of times higher than those obtained with the LHC (the world's most powerful accelerator).
The telescope will provide important information both on extremely distant sources, that is, galaxies with active nuclei, quasars, and gamma ray bursts, which scientists believe are at the origin of high energy neutrinos, and possible sources in our galaxy.

An infrastructure of multidisciplinary research
The telescope will also constitute an important multidisciplinary research structure, which will allow for the installation at abyssal depths of an “early warning” station for the monitoring of tsunami and of seismic monitoring stations. The infrastructure will also allow for the study of the presence of marine mammals and other species; this will be made possible by an acoustic detection system, which will function continuously and in real time. Oceanographic parameters necessary for monitoring the evolution and quality of the marine ecosystem of eastern Sicily will also be collected (e.g., temperature, salinity, currents).

The Future
The KM3 observatory will be installed at a great depth in the Mediterranean Sea, which is a suitable site for observing neutrinos from the southern hemisphere. In particular, the telescope will observe the Galactic Centre and an important fraction of the Galactic Plane where numerous possible sources of the emission of high energy neutrinos have been identified. Capo Passero, Sicily, is one of the candidate sites where either the entire KM3 or only parts of it could be placed. In addition to the extensive plateau at a depth of 3,500 metres, the water at this site has optimal characteristics, such as its extreme transparency and the absence of bioluminescence.

Contact information:

Laboratori Nazionali del Sud – INFN
Emilio Migneco,
e-mail: migneco@lns.infn.it

Press office - INFN
Romeo Bassoli
Eleonora Cossi
tel: 39. 066868162
e-mail: eleonora.cossi@presid.infn.it




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