In 1993, deep underground at Los Alamos Nationwide Laboratory in New Mexico, a couple of flashes of sunshine inside a bus-size tank of oil kicked off a detective story that’s but to achieve its conclusion.
The Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) was looking for bursts of radiation created by neutrinos, the lightest and most elusive of all recognized elementary particles. “A lot to our amazement, that’s what we noticed,” mentioned Invoice Louis, one of many experiment’s leaders.
The issue was that they noticed too many. Theorists had postulated that neutrinos would possibly oscillate between varieties as they fly alongside—a speculation that defined numerous astronomical observations. LSND had got down to check this concept by aiming a beam of muon neutrinos, one of many three recognized varieties, towards the oil tank, and counting the variety of electron neutrinos that arrived there. But Louis and his staff detected much more electron neutrinos arriving within the tank than the straightforward concept of neutrino oscillations predicted.
Since then, dozens extra neutrino experiments have been constructed, every grander than the final. In mountains, disused mining caverns, and the ice beneath the South Pole, physicists have erected cathedrals to those notoriously slippery particles. However as these experiments probed neutrinos from each angle, they stored yielding conflicting footage of how the particles behave. “The plot retains thickening,” mentioned Louis.
“It’s a really complicated story. I name it the Backyard of Forking Paths,” mentioned Carlos Argüelles-Delgado, a neutrino physicist at Harvard College. In Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 brief story of that title, time branches into an infinite variety of doable futures. With neutrinos, contradictory outcomes have despatched theorists down a wide range of paths, not sure which knowledge to belief and which could be main them astray. “Like all detective story, generally you see clues they usually throw you within the improper path,” Argüelles-Delgado mentioned.
The best clarification of the LSND anomaly was the existence of a brand new, fourth form of neutrino, dubbed the sterile neutrino, that mixes up all of the neutrino varieties in line with new guidelines. Sterile neutrinos would enable muon neutrinos to oscillate extra readily into electron neutrinos over the brief distance to the oil tank.
However as time went on, the sterile neutrino didn’t match the outcomes of different experiments. “We had our champion concept, however the issue was that elsewhere it fails miserably,” Argüelles-Delgado mentioned. “We have been very deep within the forest, and we would have liked to come back out.”
Pressured to retrace their steps, physicists have been rethinking what’s behind the muddle of hints and half outcomes. In recent times, they’ve devised new theories which can be extra sophisticated than the sterile neutrino, however which, if right, would totally revolutionize physics—resolving anomalies in neutrino oscillation knowledge and different main mysteries of physics on the identical time. Not least, the brand new fashions posit heavy extra neutrinos that might account for darkish matter, the invisible stuff enshrouding galaxies that appears to be 4 instances extra considerable than regular matter.
Now, 4 analyses launched yesterday by the MicroBooNE experiment on the Fermi Nationwide Accelerator Laboratory close to Chicago and one other latest examine from the IceCube detector on the South Pole each counsel that these extra complicated neutrino theories could also be heading in the right direction—although the long run stays removed from clear.
“I really feel like one thing’s within the air,” mentioned Argüelles-Delgado. “It’s a really tense atmosphere that factors towards discovery.”
A Determined Treatment
When Wolfgang Pauli postulated the existence of the neutrino in 1930 to elucidate the place vitality was disappearing to throughout radioactive decay, he known as it a “determined treatment.” His theoretical assemble had no mass or electrical cost, making him doubt an experiment might ever detect it. “It’s one thing no theorist ought to ever do,” he wrote in his journal on the time. However in 1956, in an experiment not in contrast to LSND, there the neutrino was.
Triumph quickly veered into confusion when physicists detected neutrinos coming from the solar, a pure supply of the particles, and located fewer than half the quantity predicted by theoretical fashions of stars’ nuclear reactions. By the Nineteen Nineties, it was clear that neutrinos have been behaving oddly. Not solely did photo voltaic neutrinos appear to mysteriously disappear, however so too did the neutrinos that fall to Earth when cosmic rays collide with the higher environment.