Tantalizing and rare neutrino oscillation
The first appearance of electron neutrinos amidst an underground beam of muon neutrinos has been reported by Japan's T2K collaboration.
June 23, 2011Published: June 23, 2011
The first appearance of electron neutrinos amidst an underground beam of muon neutrinos has been reported by Japan's T2K collaboration. The three "flavors" of neutrinos—electron, muon, and tau—can quantum mechanically swap identities in transit as long as all three neutrino masses are different. To date, those so-called flavor oscillations have been detected mainly by observing the disappearance, rather than the appearance, of neutrinos of a given flavor; the assumption is that some of them changed identity en route from their source. Originating at the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC), the T2K muon-neutrino beam traveled 295 km to Japan's Super-Kamiokande detector, where 88 neutrino-interaction events were detected. Of those 88 events, 6 appear to come from electron-type neutrinos. Only 1.5 such events would be expected if the elusive flavor-mixing parameter θ13 were zero. The θ13 result, based on only 2% of the data originally expected from the experiment, is considered preliminary. But it is being published because J-PARC was damaged by eastern Japan's massive earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011 and will remain offline for many more months. If confirmed, the result will have profound implications: A nonzero θ13 makes possible CP violation with leptons, which might then explain the cosmic matter–antimatter imbalance. (K. Abe et al.: T2K collaboration, http://arxiv.org/abs/1106.2822.)—Stephen G. Benka