The team involved into the NOvA neutrino experiment recently announced that their Near Detector located at U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab center in Batavia, Illinois, was successful in spotting several instances when the elusive neutrino particles changed their state.
Researchers published a fist paper on the government-funded experiments August 7. All the team members were “ecstatic” over the new findings. It is the first time neutrinos’ oscillations are detected and proved to be real.
“For all the people who worked over the course of a decade on the designing, building, commissioning, and operating this experiment, it’s beyond gratifying,”
said Peter Shanahan a spokesman for Fermilab.
Researchers are also excited that a $1.4 million grant was recently approved by the National Science Foundation, so they are able to continue laboratory tests under NOvA and other neutrino-related projects.
NOvA is one of the few studies on neutrinos in the world. Neutrinos are very hard to detect, almost impossibly one may say, because they are subatomic, carry no charge, and rarely come in contact with other particles.
So, researchers needed to fire countless neutrino-loaded beams, sift through the background noise, and spot the traces the elusive particles leave behind after they collide with other particles. Most common neutrino sources are nuclear reactors and stars.
Despite being so hard to catch, neutrinos come in large quantities. They can usually fall under three categories – tau-, electron-, and muon-type neutrinos. But they aren’t locked into one category or another. They can change their status, or oscillate. Fermilab scientists planned to catch neutrinos oscillate.
During NOvA experiments, a beam of muon particles is shot by the Fermilab Near Detector towards the Far Detector located 500 miles away, in northern Minnesota. Next, Minnesota scientists look for evidence that muon-type neutrinos morphed into electron-type ones. They also expect neutrinos to simply vanish or transition to a different type.
The recent findings made during the experiment were first published Aug. 6, and they were first publicly disclosed Aug. 7 during an American Physical Society’s meeting. The latest findings clearly show that the experiments work as planned and the detector does a good job in detecting and gathering information on neutrinos.
Researchers announced that they also have proof that neutrinos oscillate during their 500-mile trip. Study authors said that if they didn’t the team at the Far Detector would have detected a single event. Instead the Minnesota team picked up six separate events on a primary analysis.
That indicated that neutrinos indeed change from muon-type to electron-type. And those oscillation may be even more frequent than scientists first learned, because a subsequent analysis showed that there were more than six events recorded by the Far Detector.
Image Source: Peta Pixel