Neutrinos, new tool for astronomy

New ideas for astronomic telescope
Scientific American (may 2010) brought an article named “Through Neutrino Eyes” by Graciela Gelmini, Alexander Kusenko and Thomas j. Weiler. In the heading of this article you can read : Neutrinos are no longer just a curiosity of physics, but a practical tool for astronomy.

Their plan is to build a big detector, not only for neutrino detection, but also for analyzing neutrinos direction from outer space, and also disclose what kind of favor neutrinos in question they get detected, and where in the universe they might come from.

Neutrinos come in three versions, called flavors. In the basic form, the electron Ve has a strenge ability to metamorphose, giving two other flavors, such as the muon type Vμ or the tau-neutrino Vt. . But whereas the electron, the muon and the tau have spesific masses, the three neutrino flavors has not. If one try to measure a neutrino with a given flavor, we get only one of three at random, with a certain probability for each. Neutrinos thus violate the basic intuition we have about objects. As such particles fly through the space, their flavor is unimportant. It is their mass state that dictates their behavior. This process is what causes the neutrinos to meta-morphose. By the princip of quantum mechanics, each mass correspond to a wave with a certain wavelength. To use an acouistic metaphor, a neutrino is like a sound wave consisting of three pure tones.


How does this “weird” telescope work ?
The top of the pict.1 has following text : “A neutrino reveals itself by colliding with an atomic nucleus, and unleashing a charged particle – either an electron or one of its close relatives, the muon and tau – neutrinos, which in turn emits visible light or radio waves. Such events are rare, so astronomers must monitor a large volume of matter to see a decent number of them. Water, either liquid or frozen, is the usual medium of choise; it is fairly dense (maximizing the chance of a collision), yet transparent (letting the resulting light be seen)”. The so called IceCub detector will have a volume of 1 km3, with location on the South Pole Station. 86 light detectors are placed in 1.4 km deep holes in the ice-mass, much like the Amanda detector. Angular resolution should be 1-2 degrees, energy range 1011 -1021 eV, and estimated completion in 2011. From the 86 highly sensitive light detectors, a large amounts of data goes to a computor. (bottom pict.1)

What about neutrinos direction and their flavor ?
The path of one of the three alternative neutrinos, the electron- muon- or tau neutrino will emit light (shown as the yellow streak in pict.1) and the light detectors will make a precise timing of the arrival of this light in the IceCub, and also the color, thus making it possible to calculate the direction and the kind of flavor the neutrino had. The scientists know which color pattern each of them will produce. (Pict.2)


Neutrino sourches
Nuclear reactors are the major source of human-generated neutrinos. For a typical nuclear reactor with a thermal power generation of 4000 MW (megawatt) , meaning that the core produces this much heat, and the electric power generation of 1300 MW, the total power production from fission is actually 4185 MW, of which 185 MW is radiated away as anti-neutrino radiation, and lost from this reactor. But it does not appear as heat,available to run the turbines. This radiation penetrate all building materials essentially traceless, and just disappear ! Geologically produced neutrinos comes mostly from decay of uranium and thorium isotopes, as well as potassium isotope. Atmospheric neutrinos result from the interaction of cosmic rays with atomic nuclei in the earth’s atmosphere, creating showers of particles, many of which are unstable and produce neutrinos when they decay. Solar neutrinos originate from the nuclear fusion powering the sun and other stars. When four protons fuse to become one helium nucleus, two of them have to convert into neutrons, ans such conversion releases one electron neutrino. The Sun sends enormous numbers of neutrinos in all directions. Every second, about 65 billions (6.5 x 1010) solar neutrinos pass through every square centimeter of the Earth, and the side of the Earth opposite the Sun receives about the same number of neutrinos as the side facing the Sun. Supernovas produce immense burst of neutrinos. The first experimental evidencs of this phenomenon came in 1987, when neutrinos from the Supernova 1987 A was detected. High energy cosmic neutrinos are expected to produce neutrinos that are at least one million times more energetic. The detectors AMANDA, ICE Cube, Antares, Nemo and Nsetor does fortcoming experiments to study such partivles. Because neutrinos interact so little with matter, it is thought that a supernova’s neutrino emission carry information about the innermost regions of the explotion. (1)

More about the “incredible neutrinos”
Neutrinos come in multiple varieties and can metamorfose in midflight. This peculiar property provides additional information about their celestial origins. With “neutrino eyes” we can see the central fusion engine – the hottest, innermost 1 percent of the sun’s volume. The neutrinos created there pass through the sun’s outer layers almost as if they were empty space ! Neutrinos will always allow us to peer deep into the supernova, other stellar explotions such as gamma-ray bursts, and disks swirling around supermassive black holes.

Neutrinos account for 99 percent of the total energy released by supernovas. Observing them lets us see the 99 percent that ordinary telescopes miss.

The sun produces elektron-neutrinos , but before they reach our Earth, they become a mix of three favors, due to the mentioned metamorphose. Cosmic rays collide with nuclei in the air, creating unstable particles called pions that subsequently cay into electronand muon neutrinos. Together with gamma rays, neutrinos will spell out the dynamical mechanism and energy budget of nature’s mightiest dynamo. They can determine whether cosmic particle accelerators are purely electromagnetic (in which no neutrinp are produced) or involve heavy heavy particles (in which neutrinos do emerge). Historically, astronomy began with observastions of the universe in visible light and gradually expanded to infrared. microwave, radio, x-rays and gamma rays. Neutrinos continue the trend. The coming decade will be the golden age of neutrino astronomy. (2)

Skien, 14.may 2010 Kjell W. Tveten

References : (1) Neutrino, from Wikipedia, the free encyckopedia (2) “Scientific American” may 2010

Want more about counting particles from space ?
In “Scientific American”, febr. 2001 Shawn Carlson gave a description of how to build what he called a “cosmic ray telescope”. By using two home made, identical GeigerMüller detectors, and what is called a coincidence coupling, it was possible to find the direction for particles that passed both detectors, i.e. a kind of a telescope for ionizing particles. I got a spontaneous interest, this had to be tried ! If you are curious to read the rest of this story. then go to my URL named “Welcome to my posterous web site”, and you will find the article “Counting particles from space”. Good luck !

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful