Scientists have caught a group of exotic neutrinos which, like chameleons, change shapes from one flavor to another, Japanese researchers announced last Friday at the European Physical Society conference in Stockholm.
It's known that neutrinos come in three main flavors: electron, muon and tau. But now Japanese scientists have devised an experiment which allowed them to witness muon neutrinos changing into electron neutrinos, for the first time.
The experiment consisted in sending a beam of muon neutrinos from the J-PARC laboratory in Tokai Village on the eastern coast of Japan, streaming 183 miles away to the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector in the mountains northwest of Japan.
According to the scientists, the experiment was able to detect an average of 22.5 electron neutrinos in the beam that made its way to the Super-Kamiokande detector.
This finding suggests that a certain number of the muon neutrinos had changed into electron neutrinos. The experiment was supposed to have captured just 6.4 electron neutrinos if the change had not taken place - which clearly did.
Japanese scientists had already announced in 2011 that they had registered indications that pointed to the "flavor change" taking place. However, at the time, they couldn't rule out the possibility of chance being behind the observed change.
Over the last two years, the experiment has collected enough data to rule out chance - like they put it, "the probability of this effect being produced by random statistical fluctuations is less than one in a trillion."
This finding opens the door to an interesting arena for studying antimatter, the weird cousin of matter that's mysteriously missing in the universe.
Physicists believe that the Big Bang produced about as much matter as antimatter, but most of this antimatter was destroyed in collisions with matter, leaving a slight excess of matter to make up the universe we see today.
"Our findings now open the possibility to study this process for neutrinos and their antimatter partners, the anti-neutrinos," physicist Alfons Weber of the U.K.'s Science and Technology Facilities Council and the University of Oxford, said in a statement. "A difference in the rate of electron or anti-electron neutrino being produced may lead us to understand why there is so much more matter than antimatter in the universe. The neutrino may be the very reason we are here."
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