Thursday, August 10, 2017
NEUTRINOS--THE SECRET OF THE SUN
Light, Jamestown, NC
I recently ran across one of those “What did he just say?” comments in The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far, by Lawrence Krauss. It seems that every second of every day, more than 400,000 billion neutrinos are passing through our bodies and the Earth undetected. Wikipedia confirms that “the majority of neutrinos in the vicinity of the Earth are from nuclear reactions in the Sun. In the vicinity of the Earth, about 65 billion solar neutrinos per second pass through every square centimeter perpendicular to the direction of the Sun. And neutrinos can be created artificially with nuclear reactors and particle accelerators.” Just to be clear, that’s 24,000,000 billion neutrinos passing through us every minute of every day of our lives!
Who knew? I’ve been walking all over this planet for over seventy years and was never once aware of all these billions of extremely tiny particles slipping through my body 24/7 without even the slightest tingling of my skin! Krauss continues, “the whole chain begins with a reaction in which two protons collide, and via the weak interaction one of them converts into a neutron, allowing the two to fuse into the nucleus of heavy hydrogen, called deuterium, and release a neutrino and a positron. The positron later interacts in the Sun, but neutrinos, which interact only via the weak interaction, travel right out of the Sun, to Earth and beyond…This fusion releases about a million times more energy per atom than is released when coal burns…This allows the Sun to last about 10 billion years.” Hans Bethe received the Nobel Prize in 1967 by predicting this scenario and the experimental observation of neutrinos almost 40 years later confirmed his predictions. Krauss concludes “The secret of the Sun—the ultimate birth of light in our solar system—had been unveiled.”
I suppose we all might be better off if I had never pointed this out. I’ve been blithely wandering around being bombarded with these tiny neutrinos my entire life and was quite content in not knowing this, but science marches on with or without us. The good news is that this assault on our being is nothing like being microwaved, or we’d all be crispy critters by now! It seems that the more we learn about this mysterious universe we inhabit, the more it leaves us in awe.
Note: See August 10, 2017 USATODAY article on the new Sanford Deep Underground Neutrino Research Lab.