Feeds

The mystery of the vanishing neutrinos

Massive...but tiny

The next step in data security

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. ®

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.