Born in the hearts of stars and nuclear reactors, almost undetectable, nearly as fast as light, able to pass unhindered through everything from planets to people, and confirmed shapeshifters. That role call describes what makes the particles known as neutrinos both exciting and perpetually challenging for physicists on the hunt.
A series of brilliant experiments designed and executed since the 1950s have managed to detect these slippery subatomic wonders, revealing much about their origins, travels, and presence as one of the most abundant particles in the cosmos.
Earlier this week, an international collaboration led by China and the United States at the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment in the south of China pinpointed the action behind one of the neutrino’s signature magic tricks: its ability to seemingly vanish entirely. The disappearing act is the product of neutrino oscillations, and the Daya Bay team calculated the final unknown transformation type. The 5-sigma discovery not only helps demystify the neutrino, but it will also guide future experiments in exposing more fundamental mysteries – such as how we exist.
“It’s surprising and exciting that this result came so quickly and precisely,” said Brookhaven Lab’s Steve Kettell, who is Chief Scientist for the U.S. at Daya Bay. “It has been very gratifying to be able to work with such an outstanding international collaboration at the world’s most sensitive reactor neutrino experiment.” (more…)