Physicists have discovered sterile particles that should not exist

James Marshall
June 5, 2018

Researchers, during an advanced physics study, have yielded the firmest piece of evidence to date of sterile neutrinos, weird particles that can travel through the matter with no interplay with it whatsoever.

The particle was first spotted in the mid-1990s in an experiment that left scientists baffled.

So, by itself, the MiniBooNE result is not really a discovery in of itself.

(In LSND, the insulator was water; in MiniBooNE, it's a Value-Added Tax of oil.) And they carefully count how many neutrinos of each type strike the detector. As you read this, trillions of neutrinos are travelling through your body.

As waves of neutrinos stream through space, they periodically "oscillate", jumping back and forth between one flavor and another, she explained. And the best explanation for this mysterious abundance is the existence of a hypothetical type of neutrino, called the "sterile" neutrino.

'That would be huge; that's beyond the standard model; that would require new particles ... and an all-new analytical framework, ' Kate Scholberg, particle physicist at Duke University told LiveScience.

After almost three decades of experimentation, science finally caught wind of the elusive sterile neutrino for the second time.

The experiment took place at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago and aimed to monitor how many muon neutrinos morph into electron neutrinos.

Earlier MiniBooNE results turned up an excess of electron neutrinos and antineutrinos, which had physicists intrigued, but sceptical; the new result is much more pronounced. Titled "Observation of a Significant Excess of Electron-Like Events in the MiniBooNE Short-Baseline Neutrino Experiment", the paper's abstract says: "The MiniBooNE data are consistent in energy and magnitude with the excess of events reported by the LSND".

The oscillation rate is predictable, so even a few extra electron neutrinos would be a result.

In the '90s, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the researchers carried out a study and discovered the presence of some puzzling new particles, namely, the sterile neutrinos which possess the astonishing property of traveling through matter with no interplay with it whatsoever.

'We have two very different detectors...and we have the same results, ' MiniBooNE physicist En-Chuan Huang said.

Researchers working on the MiniBooNE believe neutrinos are oscillating into hidden, heavier, sterile neutrinos which are impossible for the detector to identify, before they oscillate back into the detectable realm.

Up to now these latest results are just Printed about the pre-print server arXiv, therefore while there has not been some peer review nonetheless, the physics community is currently digging into find out more.

If these results are confirmed, it could help to explain the existence of dark matter. Unlike the other three, it doesn't interact with matter at all, despite having mass.

Also known as inert neutrinos, sterile neutrinos are essentially a non-charged, non-active type of neutrinos that can pass through matter without interacting at all. Electron neutrinos were recorded during the observation of flashes of light arising from the interaction of particles with antiparticles.

Scientists believe the gravitational effects of an unseen mass, slowing the speed of the stars at the edge of the spiral galaxy, could explain the perplexing phenomenon. Other major neutrino experiments, like the underground Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Tracking Apparatus experiment in Switzerland, haven't found the anomaly that both LSND and MiniBooNE have now seen. Some of the physicists, however, still can not be sure of the particles being neutrinos.

Researchers working in Antarctica performed two independent analyses which determined with 99 per cent certainty that the eV-mass sterile neutrino does not exist.

Sterile neutrinos weren't a rejected idea, Scholberg said, but they weren't accepted science.

'There was this collection of hints, and theorists were convinced it exists'.

But this lack of interaction also means sterile neutrinos can't be directly detected with a neutrino experiment like LSND or MiniBooNE, which use photomultiplier tubes to detect the minute flashes of light produced by neutrino interactions.

Although this discovery still needs to be corroborated by further research, it has stirred quite an excitement in the world of particle physics.

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