Funded by the National Science Foundation, UMass Amherst researchers Laura Cadonati and Andrea Pocar are part of the Borexino international team whose results are available in the current online edition of the journal Physics Letters B.
Geo-neutrinos are anti-neutrinos produced in the radioactive decays of uranium, thorium, potassium and rubidium found in ancient rocks deep within our planet. These decays are believed to contribute a significant but unknown fraction of the heat generated inside Earth, where this heat influences volcanic activity and tectonic plate movements, for example. Borexino, the large neutrino detector, serves as a window to look deep into the Earth’s core and report on the planet’s structure.
Borexino is located at the Laboratorio Nazionale del Gran Sasso underground physics laboratory in a 10 km-long tunnel about 5,000 feet (1.5 km) under Gran Sasso, or Great Rock Mountain, in the Appenines and operated by Italy’s Institute of Nuclear Physics. The instrument detects anti-neutrinos and other subatomic particles that interact in its special liquid center, a 300-ton sphere of scintillator fluid surrounded by a thin, 27.8-foot (8.5-meter) diameter transparent nylon balloon. This all “floats” inside another 700 tons of buffer fluid in a 45-foot (13.7-meter) diameter stainless steel tank immersed in ultra-purified water. The buffering fluid shields the scintillator from radiation from the outer layers of the detector and its surroundings.
The scintillator fluid is so named because when neutrinos pass through it, they release their energy as small flashes of light. Neutrinos and their antiparticles, called anti-neutrinos, have no electric charge and a minuscule mass. Except for gravity, they only interact with matter via the weak nuclear force, which makes them extremely rare and hard to detect, as neutrinos do not “feel” the other two known forces of nature, the electromagnetic and the strong nuclear force.
Borexino is one of only a handful of such underground detectors in the world and is supported by institutions from Italy, the United States, Germany, Russia, Poland and France. Designed to observe and study neutrinos produced inside the Sun, it has turned out to be one of the most effective observatories of its kind in the world, with 100 times lower background noise, in part due to extremely effective scintillator purification and use of radiation-free construction materials.
Borexino is not the first instrument to look for geo-neutrinos. In 2005, a Japanese-United States collaboration operating a similar detector in Japan was able to identify some of these rare particles. But those measurements were affected by radioactive background noise, anti-neutrinos emitted from several nuclear reactors operating in Japan.
By contrast, the new Borexino data have stronger significance because of their purity and the absence of nuclear reactors. As Pocar explains, “the Borexino detector is very clean and has lower levels of radioactive impurities than ever achieved in experiments of this kind. It is indeed a very ‘quiet’ apparatus for the observation of low energy neutrinos, and exceptionally precise for distinguishing these particles by origin, either solar, geo or human-made.” Italy has no nuclear power plants, he adds.
The small number of anti-neutrinos detected at Borexino, only a couple each month, helps to settle a long-standing question among geophysicists and geologists about whether our planet harbors a huge, natural nuclear reactor at its core. Based on the unprecedently clear geo anti-neutrino data, the answer is no, say the UMass Amherst physicists. “This is all new information we are receiving from inside the Earth from the geo-neutrino probe,” Cadonati explains. “Our data are exciting because they open a new frontier. This is the beginning. More work is needed for a detailed understanding of Earth’s interior and the source of its heat, with new geo-neutrino detectors above continental and oceanic crust.”
In the future the international researchers hope that observations from similar detectors in Canada, Japan and Borexino in Italy can be coordinated to improve geo-neutrino detection and analysis even further.Laura Cadonati
Laura Cadonati | Newswise Science News
Further Improvement of Qubit Lifetime for Quantum Computers
09.12.2016 | Forschungszentrum Jülich
Electron highway inside crystal
09.12.2016 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine