Feeds

The mystery of the vanishing neutrinos

Massive...but tiny

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Physicists have confirmed enigmatic sub-atomic neutrino particles do indeed have mass. Seemingly paradoxially, the MINOS experiment at the huge underground Fermilab accelerator in Illinois corroborated the fact by showing that they disappear.

The multinational team sent a high-intensity beam of neutrinos from Fermilab through 450 miles of solid rock to the Soudan detector in a former Minnesota iron mine. Neutrinos are so small and weakly interacting they can pass through the entire planet uninterfered with.

The scientists say that if their neutrinos had no mass, long thought to be a strong possibility, they would have detected around 180 interactions. Instead, just 92 were observed. UK-based Keith Mason, CEO of PPARC, said: "The MINOS experiment is a hugely important step in our quest to understand neutrinos."

The MINOS finding is consistent with neutrino oscillation explanation of the particle's odd properties.

Under this hypothesis, muon neutrinos, the type beamed out by the Fermilab emitter switch into one of the other two flavours; electron neutrinos and tao neutrinos. It's called oscillation because the changes can work back and forth.

Things get pretty weird in the quantum world.

Once emitted a muon neutrino will become a mixture of two, or all three, flavours as it sails along. For the maths of this explanation to work the different forms must have different, and therefore non-zero, masses.

So the MINOS team's vanishing muon neutrinos fit in nicely with this and indicate neutrinos do have a mass. Et voila! Easy-peasy.

The study puts lots of...ahem...weight behind neutrino oscillation by repeating work done in Japan at a similar Big Science operation.

Neutrinos are a hot ticket in particle physics research. Boffins are currently constructing the Rik Waller of detectors at the South Pole from a cubic kilometre of ice to investigate neutrinos from outside the Solar Sytem. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.