Neutrinoelementary particle. It has spin 1/2 and so it is a fermion. Its mass is very small, although recent experiments (see Super-Kamiokande) have shown it to be above zero. It feels neither the strong nor the electromagnetic force, so it only interacts through the weak force and gravitation.
Because the neutrino only interacts weakly, when moving through ordinary matter its chance of interacting with it is very small. It would take a light year of lead to block half the neutrinos flowing through it. Neutrino detectors therefore typically contain hundreds of tons of a material constructed so that a few atoms per day would interact with the incoming neutrinos.
|Generation 1 (electron)|
|Electron neutrino||< 50 eV|
|Electron antineutrino||< 50 eV|
|Generation 2 (muon)|
|Muon neutrino||< 0.5 MeV|
|Muon antineutrino||< 0.5 MeV|
|Generation 3 (tau)|
|Tau neutrino||< 70 MeV|
|Tau antineutrino||< 70 MeV|
There are three different kinds, or flavors, of neutrinos: the electron neutrino νe, the muon neutrino νμ and the tau neutrino ντ, named after their partner lepton in the Standard Model (see table at right). In a phenomenon known as neutrino oscillation neutrinos spontaneously mutate between the three flavors.
The neutrino was first postulated in 1931 by Wolfgang Pauli to explain the continuous spectrum of beta decay, the decay of a neutron into a proton and an electron. Pauli theorized that an undetected particle was carrying away the observed difference between the energy and angular momentum of the initial and final particles. Because of their "ghostly" properties, the first experimental detection of neutrinos had to wait until about 25 years after they were first discussed. In 1956 Clyde Cowan, Frederick Reines, F. B. Harrison, H. W. Kruse, and A. D. McGuire published the article "Detection of the Free Neutrino: a Confirmation" in Science (see neutrino experiment), a result that was rewarded with the 1995 Nobel Prize. The name neutrino was coined by Enrico Fermi as a word play on neutrone, the Italian name of the neutron particle. (Neutrone in Italian also means big and neutral, and neutrino means small and neutral.)
In 1962 Leon Max Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger find out, that not only one types of neutrino exists.
The basic standard model of particle physics assumes that the neutrino is massless, although adding massive
neutrinos to the basic framework is not difficult, and
suggest that the neutrino has a small although non-zero
The strongest upper limits on the mass of the neutrino
come from cosmology. The big bang model predicts
that there is a fixed ratio between the number of neutrinos
and the number of photons in the cosmic microwave background. If the total mass of all three types of neutrinos exceeded 50 electron volts, there would be so
much mass in the universe that it would collapse. This limit can be circumvented by assuming that the neutrino is unstable, however there are limits within the standard model that make this difficult.
However, it is now widely believed that the mass of the
neutrino is non-zero. When one extends the
standard model to include neutrino masses, one finds
that the prediction that massive neutrinos can change
type whereas massless neutrinos cannot. This phenonemnon
known as neutrino oscillation explains why there
are many fewer electron neutrinos observed from the
sun and the upper atmosphere than expected, and has
also been directly observed.
Nuclear power stations are the major source of human generated neutrinos. An average plant may generate over 50,000 neutrinos per second. Particle accelerators are another source.
The basic standard model of particle physics assumes that the neutrino is massless, although adding massive neutrinos to the basic framework is not difficult, and recent experiments suggest that the neutrino has a small although non-zero mass.
The strongest upper limits on the mass of the neutrino come from cosmology. The big bang model predicts that there is a fixed ratio between the number of neutrinos and the number of photons in the cosmic microwave background. If the total mass of all three types of neutrinos exceeded 50 electron volts, there would be so much mass in the universe that it would collapse. This limit can be circumvented by assuming that the neutrino is unstable, however there are limits within the standard model that make this difficult.
However, it is now widely believed that the mass of the neutrino is non-zero. When one extends the standard model to include neutrino masses, one finds that the prediction that massive neutrinos can change type whereas massless neutrinos cannot. This phenonemnon known as neutrino oscillation explains why there are many fewer electron neutrinos observed from the sun and the upper atmosphere than expected, and has also been directly observed.
Neutrinos are produced as a result of the natural background radiation from radioactive atomic nuclei within the Earth.
Atmospheric neutrinos result from the interaction of cosmic rays with atoms withn the Earth's atmosphere, creating showers of a particles including neutrinos.
Solar neutrinos originate from the nuclear fusion powering the Sun and other stars.
Raymond Davis Jr and Masatoshi Koshiba were jointly awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in the detection of cosmic neutrinos.
Neutrinos are an important product of supernovas. Most of the energy produced in supernovas is radiated away in the form of an inmense burst of neutrinos, which are produced when protons and electrons in the core combine to form neutrons. The first experimental evidence of this phenomenon came in the year 1987, when neutrinos coming from the supernova 1987a were detected. In such events, the densities at the core becomes so high (1014 gram/cm3) that interaction between the produced neutrinos and surrounding stellar matter becomes significant. It's thought that neutrinos would also be produced from other events such as the collision of neutron stars.
Cosmic background radiation
It is thought that the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang includes a background of low energy neutrinos. In the 1980s it was proposed that these may be the explanation for the dark matter thought to exist in the universe. Neutrinos have one important advantage over most other dark matter candidates: we know they exist. However, they also have serious problems. From particle experiments, it is known that neutrinos tend to be hot, i.e. move at speeds close to the speed of light—hence this scenario was also known as hot dark matter. The problem is that being hot and fast moving, the neutrinos would tend to spread out evenly in the universe. This would tend to cause matter to be smeared out and prevent the large galactic structures that we see.
There are several types of neutrino detectors. Those used to detect stellar neutrinos consist of a large amount of material in an underground cave designed to shield it from cosmic radiation.
- In 1953 the first neutrino detection device was used to detect neutrinos near a nuclear reactor. Reines and Cowan used two targets containing a solution of cadmium chloride in water. Two scintillation detectors were placed next to the cadmium targets. Neutrino interactions with protons of the water produced positrons. The resulting positron annihilations with electrons created photons with an energy of about 0.5 MeV. Pairs of photons in coincidence could be detected by the two scintillation detectors above and below the target. The neutrons were captured by cadmium nuclei resulting in gamma rays of about 8 MeV that were detected a few microseconds after the photons from a positron annihilation event.
- Chlorine detectors consist of a tank filled with carbon tetrachloride. In these detectors a neutrino would convert a chlorine atom into one of argon. The fluid would periodically be purged with helium gas which would remove the argon. The helium would then be cooled to separate out the argon. These detectors had the failing that it was impossible to determine the direction of the incoming neutrino. It was the chlorine detector in Homestake, South Dakota, containing 520 tons of fluid, which first detected the deficit of neutrinos from the sun that led to the solar neutrino problem. This type of detector is only sensitive to νe.
- Gallium detectors are similar to chlorine detectors but more sensitive to low-energy neutrinos. A neutrino would convert gallium to germanium which could then be chemically detected. Again, this type of detector provides no information on the direction of the neutrino.
- Pure water detectors such as Super-Kamiokande contain a large area of pure water surrounded by sensitive light detectors known as photomultiplier tubes. In this detector, the neutrino transfers its energy to an electron which then travels faster than the speed of light in the medium (though slower than the speed of light in a vacuum). This generates an "optical shockwave" known as Cherenkov radiation which can be detected by the photomultiplier tubes. This detector has the advantage that the neutrino is recorded as soon as it enters the detector, and information about the direction of the neutrino can be gathered. It was this type of detector that recorded the neutrino burst from Supernova 1987a. This type of detector is sensitive to νe and νμ.
- Heavy water detectors use three types of reactions to detect the neutrino. The first is the same reaction as pure water detectors. The second involves the neutrino striking the deuterium atom releasing an electron. The third involves the neutrino breaking the deuterium atom into two. The results of these reactions can be detected by photomultiplier tubes. This type of detector is in operation in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). This type of detector is sensitive to all three neutrino flavors.