Friday, November 5, 2010

More Evidence for Hidden Particles? at ScienceNOW

I have a new story up on some new results coming out of the MiniBooNE experiment at Fermilab. Check it out here: More Evidence for Hidden Particles?

The gist: neutrinos are elementary particles that have been known about for a long time but are hard to detect because they interact only very weakly with other particles. Theorists predicted there were three types, called "flavors": electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos, and tau neutrinos, with each interacting with things like quarks and electrons and such in slightly different ways. Neutrinos were also thought to have no mass for quite a while—physicists thought they didn't weigh anything—but over the past few decades experimenters found evidence they were "oscillating," that is, changing from one flavor to another. For reasons I won't get into here, that implies they are not massless as was previously thought.

What's cool about MiniBooNE is that they've detected what appear to be very fast oscillations, which screws things up a bit for our understanding of physics. The guys I talked to at Los Alamos National Labs are all really cautious—more cautious, I think, than the story implies—but if they're right, it has big implications for how we understand the basic constituents of the universe. So check out the story to find out more!

By the way, it's maybe worth pointing out that my first editor is usually a writer, and that usually leads to the editor rewriting the story. In other words, this is my reporting, but a lot of it is not in my voice. In case anyone cares.