The IceCube team of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel developed a new way to detect neutrino particles created by solar flares. Detecting these neutrinos would be a breakthrough for solar physics.

The energy released by a solar flare is larger than the explosion of a billion nuclear bombs. The radiation caused by heavier eruptions could affect our satellites and telecommunications systems. Until now, no one has been able to detect neutrinos created by a solar flare. This new method will provide new insights into the most energetic explosions in the solar system.

Solar flares produce a lot of particles, including neutrinos, the ones we like to call “the ghost particles”. Neutrinos are notoriously hard to detect because they very rarely interact with any matter they are passing through. This means detectors such as IceCube have to be huge in order to detect a significant number of the elusive particles. Solar flare neutrinos are even harder to find, because their lower energy makes them hard to pick out from the background radiation in the detector.

IceCube is a neutrino detector buried in 1 cube kilometer of South Pole ice.

IceCube is a neutrino detector buried in 1 cube kilometer of South Pole ice.


Together with the universities from Wisconsin and Delaware and the Observatoire de Paris, my colleagues and I at VUB have developed a new way to search for these interesting neutrinos by using satellite data. We concluded that by using the gamma-ray detectors on board certain satellites, we could identify the type of eruption that produces a lot of neutrinos. This enables us to precisely predict when we have to keep a careful eye on Deepcore, the IceCube detector that specialises in low energy signatures.  This increases the probability to discover solar flare neutrinos and could open a new era in solar flare physics.

The results will be published during the summer. For now, a preprint is available on Arxiv: ‘On the detection of neutrinos from solar flares using pion-decay photons to provide a time window template’ –