Neutrinos can oscillate naturally between flavors as they travel through space, but in a supernova, as the outflowing neutrinos scatter with the neutrinos in the halo, a flavor change can be forced. "Even though few neutrinos are scattered in funny directions, they can completely dominate how the neutrinos change their favors," said George Fuller, professor of physics at UCSD, co-author of the study.
"What's going on with neutrinos sets the entire stage for what's happening in the explosion," added Cherry.
As supernovae create new elements, the flavor of neutrinos acting on the matter generated have a strong influence over what elements are produced.
"Those neutrino flavor states allow the neutrinos to change protons to neutrons or neutrons to protons." Cherry said. "What matter is produced, what kinds of atoms, elements are produced by these supernovas are changed dramatically if you change the flavor content of neutrinos."
What started out as an insignificant "correction factor" in a simulation could suddenly have profound effects on the elements generated by a supernova and the characteristics of the material inside a galaxy. Neutrinos may be tiny, but they sure are mighty.