Scientists from the NOvA (NuMI Off-Axis Electron Neutrino Appearance) experiment at Fermilab announced the observation of the first first evidence of oscillating neutrinos, a discovery representing a major leap towards our understanding of the ghostly particles and the universe.
NOvA aims to learn more about the secrets of these illusive but abundant particles that pass through ordinary matter like it doesn’t exist. The first results released this week at the American Physical Society’s Division of Particles and Fields conference confirm that the experiment’s particle detector, a behemoth weighing 14.000 tons and measuring 50 feet (15 meter) tall, 50 feet wide and 200 feet long (61 meter) works as intended.
The discovery has created a lot of excitement in the scientific community, Peter Shanahan of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory said “People are ecstatic to see our first observation of neutrino oscillations,” and added that that it was extremely gratifying for the people who worked with the experiment for a decade, it is “beyond gratifying”.
In spite of neutrinos being the most abundant particles in the universe, the knowledge about them is still sketchy, they come in three types but their weight is still unknown. Determining the weight of the particles is one of Nova’s main goals and would help the scientific community understand where the mass comes from.
The earlier discovery of the Higgs boson by CERN using the Large Hadron Collider helped explaining how some particles get their mass but it is still unclear how, or if, this is connected to neutrinos at all. The measurement of a neutrino’s mass will also enable scientists to understand if it has an antiparticle.
The NOvA project is a joint effort comprising 210 scientists and engineers from 39 institutions in the United States, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Greece, India, Russia and the United Kingdom.
Watch live events of the NOvA experiment online.