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Chameleon-Like Behavior of Neutrino Confirmed 191

Anonymous Apcoheur writes "Scientists from CERN and INFN of the OPERA Collaboration have announced the first direct observation of a muon neutrino turning into a tau neutrino. 'The OPERA result follows seven years of preparation and over three years of beam provided by CERN. During that time, billions of billions of muon-neutrinos have been sent from CERN to Gran Sasso, taking just 2.4 milliseconds to make the trip. The rarity of neutrino oscillation, coupled with the fact that neutrinos interact very weakly with matter, makes this kind of experiment extremely subtle to conduct. ... While closing a chapter on understanding the nature of neutrinos, the observation of neutrino oscillations is strong evidence for new physics. The Standard Model of fundamental particles posits no mass for the neutrino. For them to be able to oscillate, however, they must have mass.'"
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Chameleon-Like Behavior of Neutrino Confirmed

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  • oscillation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:05PM (#32411544) Homepage

    The Standard Model of fundamental particles posits no mass for the neutrino. For them to be able to oscillate, however, they must have mass.

    Unless oscillation is the fundamental thing and mass is just a sometimes effect of oscillation... but then IANAP.

  • How in the universe? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:06PM (#32411554) Journal

    How could something have mass and so weakly interact with normal matter? My understanding is that most neutrinos pass through the earth unmolested.

    (insert obligatory Catholic priest joke here).

    I's thought that neutrinos being massless made this possible.

  • by hoytak ( 1148181 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:31PM (#32411824) Homepage

    Neutrinos only interact through the weak forces, which require them to be extremely close to other particles with which they interact. Such interactions also require the neutrino to have a lot of energy, since the force-carrying particles are quite massive. This is why all these experiments use neutrinos generated by very energetic reactions (accelerators, the sun, cosmic rays, etc.).

    When I worked with BooNE, an experiment researching neutrino osculations, our detector was a 40 ft tank lined filled with clear, food-grade mineral oil and lined with photo tubes capable of detecting a few photons. The neutrinos were generated by bursts of protons crashing into a special block (I don't remember the material), and the byproducts at the given energy levels would be one type of neutrino. The interactions from different types of neutrinos would have different decays, which produced different signature rings of photons on the walls of the detector. In generating 10^9 + neutrinos, we only expected a handful of interactions.

    Gravity is also on the table, but it's impossible to measure neutrinos based on that.

  • by Snowhare ( 263311 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:50PM (#32411998)

    It isn't their mass that makes them so unlikely to interact with ordinary matter. It is because they don't interact via the Electromagnetic or Strong Nuclear forces (at least not at the energies we are discussing here). Because we can't use gravity to directly detect them (or any other elementary particle) because of its incredible weakness, that leaves only the Weak Nuclear force, which is *extremely* short range. That short range means that a neutrino must pass *very* close to an electron or a quark to have any chance what-so-ever of interacting: Something like 10 to the minus 16th power meters. For comparison, a hydrogen atom has a diameter of around 10 to the minus 10th meters - or a million times larger.

    A single *proton* has a diameter of around 10 to the minus 15th meters - or still 10 times larger than the distance in question.

    So hundreds of neutrinos could pass directly through the very nucleus of an atom and *still* not interact with anything. And that is matter with a density more than a trillion times as dense as anything in your ordinary experience.

    To neutrinos, other matter barely exists at all.

  • Re:What if... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khayman80 ( 824400 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @07:33PM (#32412330) Homepage Journal

    That's the way I've always understood the mass/oscillation connection too. But then I thought... wait... don't photons oscillate too? They're just coherent oscillations of the EM field; oscillating back and forth between electric and transverse magnetic in free space. If there's something different about neutrino oscillation which makes it necessary for the neutrino to travel at sublight, what is it specifically?

  • by eonlabs ( 921625 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @07:43PM (#32412390) Journal

    Does that fact that light is polarizable, has known frequencies of oscillation, and no mass (but has momentum), throw a wrench into all this claim that you need mass to oscillate? Probably not on these forums, but it still makes me pause to think about it.

  • Re:Excited! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @07:54PM (#32412480)

    ...we need some Slashdotter to come up with a car analogy to help us non-physicists out.

    Glad to oblige.

    Imagine a highway. All the north-bound cars are WHITE Toyota Camrys, and all the south-bound cars are BLACK Toyota Camrys. All the cars are moving very very very fast. At a certain point in the road, workers open gates that cause the two streams of traffic to plow into each other, head on. At the crash site, common sense would tell you that pieces of Toyota Camrys would come flying out, but instead, complete vehicles of other makes and models (Honda Civics and Nissan Sentras, many others, including vehicles larger than two Camrys, like Peterbilt 18-wheelers) appear instead. After a few seconds, some of these vehicles break apart, and become other vehicles, say a Peterbilt breaks apart and becomes a Ford F-150 and two Harley Davidson motorcycles. Particle physicists make a living by crashing different streams of vehicles into each other and observing the new vehicles that come out. They've put together a list of these, like "Peterbuilt --> Ford F-150 + 2(Harley Davidson Motorcycles)". They call this list the Standard Model. This new experiment shows that sometimes, after a while, one of the Harleys suddenly changes models, say from a Fat Boy to an Electra Glide.

    Hope this helps.

  • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @08:29PM (#32412748) Homepage Journal

    Photons also interact with gravity - stellar masses and above can cause gravitational lensing.

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @08:37PM (#32412830) Homepage Journal

    neutrino osculations

    You learn something new every day [wiktionary.org]

  • Re:What if... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2010 @08:46PM (#32412908)

    Kolmogorov complexity is defined logically, it is not an "artifact injected by humans", unless you're stating that all mathematics are an "artifact injected by humans".
    The poster means that, on the tree of all theories, the ones with the smallest Kolmogorov complexity, are also the one with the highest number of branches, and therefore the ones that are most likely, by the definition of the word "likely".

    This doesn't seem to have anything to do with "laziness".

  • Re:What if... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Entropius ( 188861 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @10:42PM (#32413810)

    I don't know of any superselection-rule -- it's possible, in theory, for the electron neutrino to have zero mass but the muon neutrino to have nonzero mass.

    But then you'd have to explain why one flavor was massive while the other was massless, which has never happened before. Since there's lots of precedent for three flavors with different nonzero masses, people just figure that the neutrinos are the same way.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2010 @11:05PM (#32413968)

    I thought that phenomenon was caused by the curvature in space-time, so IMHO it wasn't "interaction" per-se.

  • by khayman80 ( 824400 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @11:10PM (#32414014) Homepage Journal

    Well, if it went from something with mass to something without mass, could it not use that energy from the mass to speed up to the speed of light?

    First, it's one thing to claim that electron-positron collisions produce gamma rays. This is a (generally) non-repeated event with a clear discontinuity in time. Before the discontinuity, particles travel slower than light. Afterwards, the products of the collision travel at lightspeed. But an oscillating particle varies smoothly and repeatedly between the two states so there's no clear discontinuity even though the physics of massless and massive particles are wildly different.

    Second, I'm not suggesting such a superposition would violate conservation of energy. I'm struggling to put my objections in words. First, I grok quantum superpositions of electrons in different places or polarizations. But I don't think it's possible to have a quantum superposition of an electron and a proton because that would violate conservation of charge, mass, lepton number, and baryon number. (I believe this general idea is known as a superselection rule, which forbids certain superpositions.) In the same way, I'm trying to figure out if a superposition of a particle that defines the light cone and a particle that's constrained to move inside the light cone is meaningful. No conservation laws seem to apply, but I'm vaguely thinking that environmentally-induced superselection wouldn't allow such a superposition to exist for much longer than a Planck time.

    Sort of like how pair production causes light to become two particles traveling slower then the speed of light and then when they annihilate each other you get the photons traveling at the speed of light again?

    A photon can only produce a real electron-positron pair when it has at least twice the rest-energy of an electron and it hits a nucleus. Photons can't produce real particle pairs in free space because momentum and energy can't be simultaneously conserved without a third particle.

    The fact that light travels slower in matter can be explained in many different ways. Some QED cartoons attribute this to the effective non-zero mass of a quasi-particle known as a polariton [wikipedia.org], which is composed of a photon and phonons in the material. Again, this doesn't happen in free space. Also, this example involves virtual particles but the oscillating neutrino is real (because it can be detected as a single particle.)

  • Re:What if... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @12:10AM (#32414468)

    I don't know of any superselection-rule -- it's possible, in theory, for the electron neutrino to have zero mass but the muon neutrino to have nonzero mass.

    You can't have oscillations between massless and massive states. Remember, SR says that time stands still for massless particles. If you look at the equations for neutrino oscillations, for example here [wikipedia.org], you'll see there are expressions involving both the mass squared (for the time evolution of the wavefunction), and mass difference squared, for the mixing amplitudes. So, for quantum mechanical mixing between states, you need both non-zero masses and non-zero mass differences. There may be other, weird mixing theories which don't require mass differences, but they would be quite exotic. On the other hand, mixing of particles with zero masses would violate SR, which would be highly surprising!

  • Re:Excited! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dynetrekk ( 1607735 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @01:19AM (#32414860)
    This car analogy was pretty awesome. Just one detail: The CNGS (CERN Neutrinos to Gran Sasso) experiment is based on slamming cars (in fact, protons) into a mountainside (or a metallic target) and seeing what comes out on the backside of the mountain (730 km away). This is where the car analogy breaks down, and the Standard Model takes over.

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