‘Evil-Genius’ Neutrino Gun Could Finally Unmask the Tiniest Particles in the Universe
Neutrinos are perhaps the most underrated particles known to humankind. Physicist, smart guy and smart aleck Wolfgang Pauli first proposed their existence in 1930 as a missing puzzle piece — certain nuclear reactions had more going in than they had coming out. Pauli reasoned that something tiny and invisible had to be involved — hence, the neutrino, which is kind of Italian for “little neutral one.”
In the decades since that initial proposal, we’ve come to know and love — but not fully understand — those little neutral fellas. They have a little bit of mass, but we’re not sure how much. And they can morph from one kind of neutrino (called a “flavor,” because why not?) to another, but we’re not sure how.
Whenever physicists don’t understand something, they get really excited, because, by definition, the answer to the riddle must lie outside known physics. So the mystery of neutrino mass and mixing may give us clues to such mysteries as the earliest moments of the Big Bang.
One small problem: smallness. Neutrinos are tiny and hardly ever talk to normal matter. Trillions upon trillions are passing through your body right now. Do you notice them? No, you don’t. To really dig into neutrino properties, we have to go big, and three new neutrino experiments are coming online soon to give us a handle on things. We hope. [Six Cool Underground Science Labs]