A single ghost-like subatomic particle captured on Earth could finally help solve a cosmic mystery that has left scientists baffled for more than a century.
The high energy neutrino – the first of its type ever detected – was traced four billion light years to its source, a distant elliptical galaxy with a giant black hole at its heart emitting jets of light and radiation aimed directly at Earth.
Known as a 'blazar', this galaxy was the smoking gun that led astronomers to finally unravel the 100 year-old riddle around the origin of high energy cosmic rays.
These rays, which consist of fast-moving elementary particles, pepper Earth from space and pose a threat to astronauts, as well as the crews and passengers of commercial flights.
Discovering the ghost-like particle, which burst from the 'blazar' before the Earth formed, could provide an entirely new way of looking at the cosmos, scientists claim.
The neutrino discovery, published in the journal Science, points towards one likely origin – powerful jets of accelerated particles fired from the poles of rapidly rotating supermassive black holes.
Until now, the origin of high energy cosmic rays was a mystery to scientists.
Beyond cosmic rays, the latest finding could provide a new way of peering into the depths of the universe.
Like the discovery of gravitational waves in 2016, neutrinos could be a new 'messenger', carrying energy across the cosmos.
Neutrinos are the so-called 'third messenger', following light protons and gravitational waves.