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Neutrinos are unbelievable particles!
Who foresaw their existence?
Already in 1930 Wolfgang Pauli foresaw the existence of a new particle, later getting the name neutrino (itl. for “a little neutral one”) The physicists had for a long time tried to find an explanation for missing energy balance when beta particles (electrons) emanated by some kinds of radioactivity. There was something that would not agree; yes it was in conflict with the principle of the law of conservation of energy. Pauli suggested that a “neutrino particle” cut off with some of the energy, but he added: “I have done something awful; I have predicted a particle which not can be detected”. (2)
The neutrino is detected.
In 1955 a particle corresponding to what Pauli had predicted was found, and it was closely connected to the electron. Later, one found out that there actually exist three variants of neutrino, where two of them were some heavier muon- and tau-electrons. Those three has got their names as Ve (1955) Vm (1962) and Vt (1978). (1) Common for these three types of electrons and their links to neutrinos is that they will not be affected by the so called “strong force”, which keeps the atomic nucleus together. Such particles are called leptons. Together with quarks, all attached to the atomic nucleus (protons and neutrons), these two groups form the whole foundation of the universe (6). There has been much disagreement whether a neutrino really has a mass. The existence of mass would be of substantial interest to the comprehension of gravitation in the universe, and perhaps also to the understanding of the assumed”dark matter” out in space. (1)
The sun stands for a considerable part of all neutrinos coming to our earth. Cosmic radiation going into our athmosphere liberates neutrons of the muon type, and some kind of radioactivity contributes for a certain amount of neutrinos. The so called “high energy neutrinos” are assumed to come from super-nova explosions. By such occasions as much as 99 % of all energy is assumed released as neutrinos. In 1987 there was observed a supernova in The Great Magellan Cloud. When this happened, the density of neutrinos hitting the earth corresponded to 100 millions of neutrinos per second on an area corresponding to a tumbfinger-nail! Such neutrinos have a speed close up to light, and will unhindered pass the enormous electromagnetic forces around galaxies. They go only straight forward, and could do so in eternity. Even if they meet a barrier of lead, 50 light-years thick, they will unaffected pass. They also contain an unbelievable quantity of energy. By collision with a proton, the energy liberated corresponds to the kinetic energy in a baseball coming with an 80 km / h speed. (2)
How to detect neutrinos?
This is possible because it happens (very, very seldom) that a neutrino particle collides with a proton. When this happens, a muon type neutrino is formed. This muon particle should get a speed about 25 % higher than the speed of light, but here the nature “takes over“. For not exceeding the light speed (300 000 km/s) the muon must get rid of excessive energy, and gives away some light, the so called Cherenkov Light, as a thin, bluish streak (4,5). A neutrino-detector is therefore quite different from an astronomic observatory. It has an enormous tank filled up with pure water, and rows of sensors, named photomultipliers. When the surrounding medium is pure and clear water, and it is complete darkness, the photomultiplier will be able to detect the light streaks in a range of some tenth meters. They will also be able to indicate the direction with an accuracy of 3.5 degrees, and therefore tell the accurate point on the sky where the neutrino particle came from. All we know today about the universe has come to us by observations of light, included all types of photons as visible light, infrared and ultraviolet, and besides spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, like radio waves and x-rays. All these kinds of radiation have on their way been influenced from electromagnetic and gravimetric fields, causing uncertainty about their origin place. This is not the case for the neutrinos. They have gone in a straight line from their origin, and this start can be billions of light years away.
Different types of detectors
Detectors have been built on different places around the earth. To avoid influence from cosmic radiation and neutrinos from our own sun, many detectors are placed in great, blasted rooms in deep rock-ground, but also in very deep and clear water. The first project for detecting neutrino-induced muons in natural water was the Russian installation in the deep Baikal.sea, with depths down to 1523 meters. (1) Another type has been placed on the South Pole, on US Amundsen-Scott Station, called Amanda. It was primarily aiming to detect high energetic neutrinos from black holes, gamma outburst and supernovas in far galaxies. The next detector, called Amanda II, followed this. After drilling 1900 meters down in the ice, they installed 680 detectors (photomultipliers) in the size of basketballs, hanging down in 19 cables. The detection system is surrounded by pure ice, and in complete darkness in a depth from 1500 to 1900 meters. Amanda did their first detection in summer 2001, and two years later the results was published in Sidney. These have given astronomers very surprising and new visions about cosmos. (1)
Japan has since 1985 got a lot more knowledge in neutrino research after starting up their Super-Kamiokade–detector in the Japanese Alps. The heart in their detector is an enormous tank filled with 50 000 tons of super clean water. For detecting of Cherenkov-light from collisions between neutrinos and protons, this tank is surrounded by 13 000 high sensitive photomultipliers. The detector made its great “shots” when the Great Magellan Cloud showed up on 23.februar in 1987. It managed to detect 11 neutrino hits from this unique event, and this was considered to be the introduction of a new era in the exploration of the universe.
Many sources of error
It would be quite simpler if the detections only registered light flashes from high energetic neutrinos from outer space, but this is not the fact. Cosmic radiation gives collisions with protons in our atmosphere, and creates muons and the belonging muon-neutrinos. In addition, the surrounding rock will have some radioactivity, which also can create Cherenkov-light. Such “false” flashing comes in higher numbers than those from “pure” neutrinos.
Super Kamiokade detected thousands of electron-neutrinos from the sun, but only half of the numbers they had expected. This problem strengthened when they studied muon-neutrinos from cosmic radiation. In a shower of cosmic particles one should expect a double number of muon- neutrinos as electron-neutrinos, but in the Super-Kamiokade and other experiments the numbers was about equal. Seen in a connexion, it looked like some of the muon-neutrinos from cosmic radiation disappears, and likewise the electron-neutrinos from the sun! It was adjacent to think that something happened on the journey. The Japanese did an experiment, and sent muon-neutrinos from their accelerator (KK in Tsjukuba) in the direction against the SuperKamiokade-detector, 250 km away. Although the detector totally registered a smaller number of neutrinos, the amount of muon-neutrinos arrived as a minority. The conclusion of this was that if each of these three unlike types of neutrinos can “oscillate” over to another type, it is not unlikely that only a third of electron-neutrinos reach the earth. The answer to this was still to wait for in new detections.
The Antares detector
In the Mediterranean, 37 km out from Cote d’Azur, not far from Toulon, there is an area with a depth going down to 2400 meters, and the water is extraordinary clear and pure. This means that there is sufficiant water up to the surface to protect against all muons that cosmic radiation can give. Besides, it is not so far from land, making installation and maintenance simpler.
The Frenchmen did a thorough preliminary work, as to study the problems with possible microbe fouling for the detection with photomultipliers. After a whole year in the sea the light sensibility was reduced with only 2 %.
Another problem was all the small organisms which produced some kind of light flashes. This light was bluish, like the Cherenkov-light, and could be rather strong. But because the Cherenkov light always is coherent, just as laser-light, it was possible to filter out those “amorous” flashes from Mediterranean creepy things, and only detect the “astronomic light”. Another problem with the Antares was the Cherenkov light from the radioactive K40, which is present in sea water, but was considered to be only a “cosmetic problem”, and could be subtracted. Antares was expected to be operational in 2004, and could probably exceed the American Amanda on the South Pole. (1) One thing has Antares and Amanda in common. They plan to enlarge these detectors to about one cubic Kilometer! Someone wrote the following about it: “It will be possible to hear the scream from far-off quasars and detect shock waves from the great gamma flashes”.
In Canada they have developed a new technique, making it possible to distinguish what type of neutrinos they detect. The installation has got the name Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). It has a tank containing 1000 tons of water, surrounded by 10 000 light sensors (photomultipliers). A little trick has been used. For the most of time so called ultra clean water is used, but in a limited time they use genuine heavy water (D2O) with a small addition of salt (NaCl) In the ultra pure water they detect only electron-neutrinos, while in a smaller tank with D2O + NaCl all the three types will be detected. In this arrangement they are able to detect the total number of neutrinos. By subtracting the number of electron- neutrinos from this, they can calculate the distribution between muon- and tau-neutrinos. SNO will in an average only detect one neutrino per hour, and it took four years to gain meaningful results. This has revealed the following relation: Some of the electron-neutrinos from the sun changes to muon- or tau-neutrinos on their way to earth. The total number of neutrinos being detected, and included all the three variants, agree with the number from the most advanced calculating models for the numbers from the sun. This has been considered as an important result within experimental science (1), and was rewarded with the Nobel Prize in physics for 2003, given to Ray Davis (University of Pennsylvania) and Mashatoshi Koshiba (Tokyo University).
In 2004, intensions for producing a stream of muon-neutrinos from the Fermilab accelerator near Chicago over to a detector in the Soudan- mine in Minnesota; a distance of 700 km. was established.
In the meantime, plans for sending a neutrino stream from the LHC (Large Hadron Accelerator, Cern) to Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy came up. At the top of this, plans for building a neutrino- generator, able to send a “maelstrom” of such particles to the other side of the earth, exist. (1)
The discoveries in Canada created new problems. The fact that a neutrino can oscillate and transform to one of the other variants means in fact that they must have different mass. Neutrinos could not be massless, as earlier proposed. Another problem also showed up. When neutrinos shall be described as spinning particles, they are always left-handed. And this phenomenon also passes for their “antiparticles”, this being quite unique. All other particles in nuclear physics exist in both forms, and this gives some imbalance in the system. This fact gives the theoretic a little glimpse into a world far beyond our general comprehension of the world, and our so called Standard Model for nuclear physics. In this “other world”, new dimensions are brought in. Our normal four dimensions (room and time), could then be locked up in a multidimensional system, with perhaps as many as eleven dimensions. In such a system the left- and right handed rotations could freely operate. Quantum theory should allow such “behaviour” for the three types of neutrinos in short sequences. (1) The existence of so called “super-heavy neutrinos” gives new thoughts about the so called Dark Matter in the universe. Neutrinos operate in incomprehensible numbers, and must have a fundamental role in the universe.
The article given here was published in the Norwegian periodical “Astronomi” October 2004. Skien, 8. mars 2010 Kjell W. Tveten
References: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) “Reluctant heroes”, article from New Scientist, 7. Dec. 2002 p. 35-43 “Cosmic ghost hunt”, article from Astronomy Now, Oct. 2003, 37-39 “Kamiokande”, printing from Internet/Google, e pg. “Imaging water Cherenkov detector”, printing from Internet/Google, 3 pg. “Measuring the velocity of light”, printing from Internet/Google, 3 pg.
What happened in neutrino research after 2004 ?
The OPERA project started in 2003, and has been described like this : “The OPERA experiment has been designed to perform the most straightforward test of the phenomenon of neutrino oscillations. This experiment exploits the CNGS (Cern Neutrino beam to Gran Sasso) high –intensity and high – energy beam of muon neutrinos produced at the CERN SPS SPS in Geneva pointing towards the LNGS underground laboratory at Gran Sasso, 730 km away in central Italy. OPERA is located in the Hall C of LNGS and is aiming at detecting for the first time the appearance of tau-neutrinos from the transmutation (oscillation) of muon-neutrinos during their 3 millisecond travel from Geneva to Gran Sasso. In OPERA , tau- leptonsresulting from the interaction of tau-neutrinos will be observed in “bricks”of photographic emulsion films interleaved with lead plates. The apparatus contains about 150 000 such bricks for a total mass of 1300 tons and is complemented by electronic detectors (trackers and spectrometers) and ancillary infrastructure. Its construction has been completed in spring 2008, and the experiment is currently in data taking.” http://opera.desy.de/project.html In summer 2006, CERN gave the starting signal for the long-distance neutrino race to Italy. The CNGS facility, embedded in the laboratory’s accelerator complex, produced its first neutrino beam. For the first time, billions of neutrinos were sent through the Earth’s crust to the Gran Sasso laboratory, 732 km away in Italy, a journey at almost the speed of light which they completed in less than 2.5 milli-seconds. The OPERA experiment at the Gran Sasso laboratory was then commissioned, recording the first neutrino track.
The CNGS project is expected to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding neutrinos. Neutrinos, which are very light, neutral particles, interact very little with matter. They fill the Universe but are virtually impossible to capture. 400 billions neutrinos pass through us every second, and yet only one or two will ever interact with our bodies’ throughout our entire lives. The fact that they are extremely hard to intercept goes some way to explaining the mystery that surrounds them. We know there are three types or flavours of neutrino: the electron neutrino, the muon neutrino and the tau neutrino. But physicists want to find out why the flux of neutrinos from the sun is much smaller than theory predicts. This deficit may be due to the transformation (or oscillation) of neutrinos from one flavour to another, a process which has been observed in recent experiments. This phenomenon, known as oscillation, is directly linked to another fundamental question that torments physicists: the neutrinos mass. Oscillations had shown that neutrinos have a mass, but it has yet to be determined. The mass of neutrinos is crucial. Even if they are infinitesimally light, these particles could contribute to the Universe’s mysterious dark matter, which is invisible to telescopes but whose gravitational effect can be observed. The CNGS project is to provide evidence of neutrino oscillations which is thought to occur over long distances. To achieve this, OPERA, a first experiment nesting below 1440 meter of rock, has been commissioned at the Gran Sasso laboratory. OPERA’s huge detector, weighing 1800 tons, would identify particles transformed from muon neutrinos into tau neutrinos during the journey, thus demonstrating oscillation. OPERA is expected to intercept and detect around 25 muon neutrinos out over the one hundred billion that will reach it every day. Around fifteen tau neutrinos produced by oscillation are expected to be detected over five years. The production of high-intensity neutrino beam at CERN requires a complex facility. A proton beam produced and accelerated by the CERN accelerators is directed onto a graphite target to give birth to other particles called pions and kaons. These particles are the fed into a system comprising two magnetic horns which focus them into a parallel beam that is directed toward Gran Sasso. Next, in a 1000 metre long tunnel, the pions and kaons decay into muons and muon neutrinos. At the end of this decay tunnel, an 18 metre thick block of graphite and metal absorbs the protons, pions and kaons that did not decay. The muons are stopped by the rock. Impervious to all such obstacles, the muon neutrinos will leave the CERN tunnels and streak through the rock on their 732 km journey to Italy. (September 2006). http://public.web.cern.ch/Public/en/Spotlight/SpotlightCNGS-en.html
The start-up for CERN accelerator was on the 10. September 2008. However, a very serious incident happened on 19.September 2008, causing more than a year of delay to restart the physics programs and a minimum of delay two years to reach full energy.
From Geneva, 23 November 2009 was reported: “Today the LHC circulated two beams simultaneously for the first time, allowing the operators to test the synchronization of the beams and giving the experiments their first chance to look for the proton-proton collisions. With just one bunch of particles circulating in each direction, the beams can be made to cross in up to two places in the ring. From early in the afternoon, the beams were made to cross at points 1 and 5, home to the ATLAS and CMS detectors, both of which were on the lookout for collisions. Later, beams crossed at points 2 and 8, ALICE and LHCb “.
How far away experiments for the OPERA project lays now is hard to guess. Probably it will be a question of priorities, and time will show. Skien, 8. mars 2010 Kjell W. Tveten
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