By sending a high-intensity beam of subatomic particles known as neutrinos from a laboratory in Batavia, Ill., to a particle detector located deep in a mine in Soudan, Minn., scientists have confirmed the neutrinos really do “oscillate,” changing from one kind to another as they fly along.
The payoff could be a deeper understanding of the ghostly neutrino particles, which can traverse the entire Earth without interacting with matter. Ultimately, in fact, these elusive particles may help us understand the origins of the neutrons, protons and electrons that make up all the matter in the world around us.
Such oscillations have been observed in earlier experiments. But new experiments from the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) based at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory will eventually examine the effect in much greater detail, and under controlled conditions.
“Using a man-made beam of neutrinos, MINOS is a great tool to study the properties of neutrinos in a laboratory-controlled environment,” said Stanford University professor Stan Wojcicki, spokesperson for the experiment.
Their first result corroborates earlier observations of muon neutrino disappearance, made by the Japanese Super-Kamiokande and K2K experiments.
“Over the next few years, we will collect about 15 times more data, yielding more results with higher precision, paving the way to better understanding this phenomenon,” Wojcicki said.
The U.S. Department of Energy funds most of MINOS through its support for Fermilab. The National Science Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council provide additional funding.