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Neutrinos - Windows to the Universe

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The world's first neutrino observation in a hydrogen bubble chamber. It was found Nov. 13, 1970, in this photograph from the Zero Gradient Synchrotron's 12-foot bubble chamber. The invisible neutrino strikes a proton where three particle tracks originate (lower right). The neutrino turns into a mu-meson, the long center track (extending up and left). The short track is the proton. The third track (extending down and left) is a pi-meson created by the collision.
Click on image for full size
Argonne National Laboratory

Neutrinos

The neutrino is an extremely light particle. It has no electric charge. The neutrino interacts through the weak force. For this reason and because it is electrically neutral, neutrino interactions with matter are extremely rare.

Fusion reactions in the Sun produce neutrinos. By detecting these neutrinos, scientists can learn about the solar interior.

The Sun is estimated to produce some 1038 neutrinos per second (that's a lot!!). Billions of these neutrinos pass through the Earth without a single interaction (they may be passing through your hands right now!). Large and very sensitive detectors are actually able to detect neutrinos.

Click here for a brief history of the discovery of neutrinos.

Neutrinos are produced in a variety of nuclear processes: most of the neutrinos that reach Earth from space come from the Sun (called solar neutrinos). Neutrinos are also released when cosmic gamma rays hit the Earth's atmosphere. Other sources of neutrinos are exploding stars (supernovae), relic neutrinos (according to the current theory about the origin of the universe) and nuclear power plants.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF