Neutrinos, a subatomic particle that has captured the imagination of the physics world, exist virtually everywhere, but are very difficult to study because they don’t react with other particles.
However, neutrinos occasionally change when they travel over long distances. Fermilab National Laboratory’s NOvA Experiment, which uncovered the new findings, beams the particles underground from near Chicago to Northern Minnesota to study how neutrinos change. By studying those changes, scientists can learn about the composition of the particles.
IU physicist Mark Messier serves as co-spokesman for the NOvA experiment. He says neutrinos sport three different “flavors” that include electron, muon and tau, as well as three different mass states. He says the more scientists know about the “flavors,” the more they can understand about the particles’ mass.
“So what we want to know is what the recipe is for these neutrinos we want to know how much of the three masses we need to combine to produce a neutrino with definite flavors,” Messier says.
The Nova experiment recently indicated the flavors in a specific mass state didn’t line up with what scientists had previously believed.
Fermilab scientist Deborah Harris says because they almost never interact with anything, neutrinos serve as a kind of particle fossil.
“We can use neutrinos to learn about the sun, to learn about the stars, even the birth of the universe,” Harris says.
The results were presented earlier this month at Chicago’s International Conference of High-Energy Physics.