First of all, I have actually seen cherenkov radiation in person. I went on a tour of
the University of Virginia research nuclear reactor, the core of which simply sat at the
bottom of a pool of water, so that you could stand at the edge and stare down at the
core. You could see the unearthly blue glow of cherenkov radiation (produced by the
beta particles escaping the core) all around the core. It was one of the
coolest things I have ever seen. It was like being in a sci-fi film...without the
bad acting. "If you have the means, I highly recommend it."
Cherenkov radiation is also used to detect other sorts of particles besides
neutrinos. One such method involves using cherenkov radiation to detect
high energy gamma rays. When the gamma rays enter the atmosphere they
react with it causing a particle shower, which in turn creates cherenkov radiation.
Then, an optical telescope, composed of a large parabolic dish of mirrors
reflecting light to a bank of photomultiplier tubes is employed to collect the light. Using
sophisticated computer analysis, background light can be filtered out and
data about the original gamma ray can be extracted.
Ok, so the coolest thing relating to all this is the following: Usually cherenkov light
produced by astronomical events is far far too faint to see with the
naked eye; however, astronauts have reported strange flashes in their
vision while in space. It has been speculated that they are seeing cherenkov light
produced by high energy particles (gamma rays and cosmic rays), but unlike
the case of the telescopes these are thought to be produced inside the eye and then
collected by the retina. The water in the astronauts' eye is thought to be
functioning like a particle detector! This happens to astronauts and not the rest of
us because the atmosphere normally shields us (which is why the telescopes mentioned above
work). There have apparently been experiments to test this hypothesis, but I am
unaware of the results. It should be noted that it is probably fairly unlikely this is the
correct explanation, but it would be cool.