According to scientists hunting for a crucial building ingredient of the Universe, a new chapter in physics has begun.
A large experiment was performed to look for an elusive sub-atomic particle, which is a crucial component of the matter that makes up our daily existence.
The particle known as the sterile neutrino was not found throughout the hunt.
This will now lead physicists to even more intriguing hypotheses to explain the origins of the Universe.
The discovery was regarded as “quite exciting” by Prof Mark Thomson, executive chair of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which sponsors the UK’s part to the Microboone project.
This is because a significant number of scientists have built their ideas on the assumption that the presence of the sterile neutrino is a possibility.
Prof Thomson told BBC News, “This has been out there for a long time now and attracted a lot of attention.”
“The conclusion is fascinating because it has implications for new ideas in particle physics and cosmology,” says the author.
The Microboone experiment is headquartered in Batavia, Illinois, just north of Chicago, at the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). However, scientists from all around the world are working on the project.
Neutrinos are ethereal subatomic particles that pervade the Universe but have little interaction with our daily lives. Hundreds of billions of them flow through the Earth – and everyone who lives on it – every second.
The electron, muon, and tau are the three known kinds of neutrinos. Neutrinos changed flavor as they traveled, according to Japanese researchers who discovered this in 1998.
The present “grand theory” of subatomic physics, known as the Standard Model, cannot fully explain this flavor-flipping. Some physicists believe that knowing why neutrinos have such a little mass – which allows them to change flavor – may help them better comprehend how the Universe operates and how it came into being.
The electronics racks for Microboone are positioned immediately above the detector, on a platform that filters substantial quantities of cosmic radiation from affecting the results’ accuracy.
According to current beliefs, there were equal amounts of matter and its dark mirror-image anti-matter immediately after the Big Bang. When matter and anti-matter clash, however, they violently destroy each other, releasing energy. They should have cancelled each other out if there were equal quantities in the early Universe.
Instead, today’s Universe is mostly made up of matter, with far less anti-matter.
Some scientists believe that the cosmic sleight-of-hand that allowed some matter to survive after the Big Bang and generate the planets, stars, and galaxies that make up the Universe is contained inside the neutrino’s flavour-changing.
The Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector experiment at the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico witnessed the generation of more electron neutrinos than the three-neutrino flavour-flipping hypothesis could explain in the 1990s. A further trial in 2002 verified this conclusion.
The presence of a fourth flavor, known as the sterile neutrino, has been hypothesized by physicists. They thought this type of particle may explain the excess generation of electron neutrinos and, more importantly, why the particles change flavor.
They’re called sterile neutrinos because they’re not expected to interact with matter at all, although other neutrinos do – albeit infrequently. A sterile neutrino would have been a more significant subatomic physics discovery than the Higgs boson because, unlike other types of neutrinos and the Higgs particle, it is not included in the current Standard Model of physics.
In order to detect it, a team of almost 200 scientists from five nations conceived and built the Micro Booster Neutrino Experiment, or Microboone. Microboone is made up of 150 tons of hardware packed into an area the size of a lorry.
Its detectors are very sensitive, and its views of the subatomic realm have been compared to seeing through a microscope in ultra-high definition.
The researchers have recently revealed that four distinct examinations of the experiment’s data reveal “no trace” of the sterile neutrino.
A new chapter has begun
However, this is not the conclusion of the narrative, but rather the start of a new chapter.
According to Fermilab’s Dr. Sam Zeller, the lack of detection does not have to invalidate earlier findings.
She stated, “The older data does not deceive.”
“Something really intriguing is going on, and we need to explain it. The data is directing us away from the most plausible answers and toward something more intricate and intriguing, which is quite exciting.”
Prof Justin Evans of the University of Manchester feels that the current results’ dilemma represents a watershed moment in neutrino research.
“We tend to uncover something fresh or surprising every time we look at neutrinos,” he remarked.
“Microboone’s findings are leading us in a new path, and our neutrino program will help us solve some of these puzzles.”