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Researchers have speculated about the possibility of a “sterile neutrino,” a hypothetical particle, for quite some time. Strange and mysterious abnormality in nuclear reactor storm raised hopes that this particle would be found. Unfortunately, however, recent studies have ruled out, with absolute certainty, the possibility that this peculiar measurement indicated a sterile neutrino.

Around 100 trillion neutrinos are expected to travel through human bodies every second, earning them the nickname “ghost particles” due to their low interaction with other matter. Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the cosmos, and their properties have been the subject of intense study since its theorization in 1930.

According to French physicist David Lhuillier of the Atomic Energy Commission, they manifest “when the nature of the nucleus of an atom has been modified” (AFP). He suggested that this might occur when the elements fuse together in the cores of stars like our own sun, or when they are shattered apart in nuclear reactors.

Neutrinos have been confirmed to exist in three different flavors: electron, muon, and tau. While these three interact with normal matter, physicists speculate the existence of a fourth neutrino, which they have termed “sterile” because it has no effect on it. This hypothetical neutrino would theoretically be subject only to gravity and not the fundamental force of weak interactions. In addition, “there has not yet been a definite confirmation that it exists,” he said of the sterile neutrino, despite the fact that it has a position in theoretical physics.

Therefore, Lhuillier and the rest of the French-German STEREO partnership set out to find it. This phenomenon was nicknamed the “reactor antineutrino anomaly” because previous observations of nuclear reactors had discovered fewer neutrinos than theoretical models predicted. It was proposed that the missing neutrinos had transformed into sterile neutrinos, presenting a unique opportunity to demonstrate their existence. To determine this, the STEREO cooperation erected a dedicated detector a few meters away from a nuclear research reactor at the Laue-Langevin institution in Grenoble, France.

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After four years of monitoring over one hundred thousand neutrinos and two years of processing the data, the conclusion was published in Nature on Wednesday. Lhuillier stated that the anomaly “cannot be explained by sterile neutrinos.” He emphasized that this “does not mean there are none in the cosmos.” The experiment revealed that prior estimates of the number of neutrinos produced were inaccurate. It did, however, provide a far clearer image of the neutrinos emitted by nuclear reactors. This could be useful not only for future study but also for nuclear reactor monitoring. In the meantime, the hunt for sterile neutrinos continues. Atom-smashing particle accelerators could provide new leads. Dark matter, which comprises more than a quarter of the cosmos but remains a mystery, has been considered a suspect for sterile neutrinos. The sterile neutrino, like dark matter, does not interact with conventional matter, making it extremely difficult to observe. “It would be a contender that would explain why we observe the impacts of dark matter but cannot observe dark matter itself,” Lhuillier explained.

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