With all the hype surrounding the discovery of the Higgs boson the last couple of years, I felt obligated to give you my top three reasons why the neutrino is the coolest particle of all.
First, say it with me: neutrino. The name just sounds cool. It is one of the most abundant particles in the universe along with being the lightest. The three types of neutrinos are the electron (the lightest and oldest), the tau and the muon neutrino.
Another cool fact is that the neutrino can change or oscillate between these different states randomly. This happens for no apparent reason other than to mess with the minds of scientists working at the world’s top particle physics lab, CERN (although they would never admit that).
In fact, these little guys were the reason a couple of physicists lost their jobs at CERN when they announced back in 2011 that neutrinos were faster than light. Despite having very little mass, neutrinos do weigh something. That means under no circumstances should any type of neutrino be faster than photons — the force carriers of the electromagnetic force.
Undeterred, these scientists decided to publish their findings. After a media frenzy, Einstein rolling over in his grave, and a serious talking from the head honchos at CERN, they were sent packing.
Can the Higgs boson say that? No. It may be good at winning people the Nobel prize but not getting them fired. I mean, what were these guys thinking? Haven’t they heard of the grandfather paradox? Hello.
The second reason neutrinos are cool is that they are produced almost everywhere — in the sun, the earth, the food we eat, pretty much anywhere or anything that goes through radioactive decay.
However, much is still unkown about the neutrino. It has no electrical charge besides being very hard to stop. It’s calculated that to stop a single neutrino you need about four light-years of lead-in between that neutrino and its destination because it almost never interacts with anything (thus making it a top candidate for what makes up the dark matter in the universe).
Oh, and every second, about 50-trillion neutrinos coming from the sun pass though your body. Theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli first postulated their existence in the 1930s. After looking at the decay of neutrons into protons, Pauli used the principles of conservation of energy and momentum to deduce that there had to be a particle somewhere yet to be seen or detected. It would not be until the following decade when Enrico Fermi would officially name this particle “the small neutron” or neutrino.
The third reason neutrinos are the coolest is that, despite being so small, they’re a yet undiscovered country in many respects. Gigantic underground detectors all over the world are currently trying to gather as much data as possible about these little fellas. The race is on.
However, with the Large Hadron Collider offline until the end of 2014, these detectors will have some big shoes to fill for the next several months. And, say it with me one more time: neutrino.