This Is What Neutrinos Look Like When Scientists Catch Them

Scientist use crazy technology to hunt down the elusive “ghost particle”, from bubble chambers to glowing radiation. Here are the different methods they’ve tried, and are still using today.

Subatomic particles can be… tricky. They’re a fundamental particle of the universe, and they are quite literally everywhere around us, all the time--you have neutrinos passing through you right now! But the catch is they have no charge and a miniscule mass--some even say no mass at all.  This means they interact so little with the matter around them, we don’t notice them zinging through the earth and our bodies at nearly the speed of light all day long. And that’s also what makes them so hard to find, measure and understand! How do you look at a thing that doesn’t interact with anything? ‘Very creatively’ is the answer.

Which brings us back to this album cover. Like I mentioned, this dreamy image was generated by the equally dreamy-sounding bubble chamber. The Gargamelle, for example, was a bubble chamber used at CERN in the 70’s, consisting of a muon-neutrino beam and nearly 12 cubic meters of heavy-liquid freon.

Using Gargamelle, researchers could observe the charged particles set in motion by the neutrinos...kind of like seeing the ‘shadow’ of the neutrino. This is the reason the neutrino is sometimes referred to as the ghost particle--you can’t see the neutrino itself, but you can see them knocking stuff around if you arrange things properly.

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