Monday, Nov. 2, 2015
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MicroBooNE sees first accelerator-born neutrinos

This display shows a neutrino event candidate in the MicroBooNE detector. Image: MicroBooNE

Today the MicroBooNE collaboration announced that it has seen its first neutrinos in the experiment's newly built detector.

"It's nine years since we proposed, designed, built, assembled and commissioned this experiment," said Bonnie Fleming, MicroBooNE co-spokesperson and a professor of physics at Yale University. "That kind of investment makes seeing first neutrinos incredible."

After months of hard work and improvements by the Fermilab Booster team, on Oct. 15, the Fermilab accelerator complex began delivering protons, which are used to make neutrinos, to one of the laboratory's newest neutrino experiments, MicroBooNE. After the beam was turned on, scientists analyzed the data recorded by MicroBooNE's particle detector to find evidence of its first neutrino interactions.

"This was a big team effort," said Anne Schukraft, Fermilab postdoc working on MicroBooNE. "More than 100 people have been working very hard to make this happen. It's exciting to see the first neutrinos."

MicroBooNE's detector is a liquid-argon time projection chamber. It resembles a silo lying on its side, but instead of grain, it's filled with 170 tons of liquid argon.

Liquid argon is 40 percent denser than water, and hence neutrinos are more likely to interact with it. When an accelerator-born neutrino hits the nucleus of an argon atom in the detector, its collision creates a spray of subatomic particle debris. Tracking these particles allows scientists to reveal the type and properties of the neutrino that produced them.

Neutrinos have recently received quite a bit of media attention. The 2015 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for neutrino oscillations, a phenomenon that is of great importance to the field of elementary particle physics. Intense activity is under way worldwide to capture neutrinos and examine their behavior of transforming from one type into another.

MicroBooNE is an example of a new liquid-argon detector being developed to further probe this phenomenon while reconstructing the particle tracks emerging from neutrino collisions as finely detailed three-dimensional images. Its findings will be relevant for the forthcoming Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, known as DUNE, which plans to examine neutrino transitions over longer distances and a much broader energy range. Scientists are also using MicroBooNE as an R&D platform for the large DUNE liquid-argon detectors.

"Future neutrino experiments will use this technology," said Sam Zeller, Fermilab physicist and MicroBooNE co-spokesperson. "We're learning a lot from this detector. It's important not just for us, but for the entire neutrino community."

In August, MicroBooNE saw its first cosmic ray events, recording the tracks of cosmic ray muons. The recent neutrino sighting brings MicroBooNE researchers much closer to one of their scientific goals, determining whether the excess of low-energy events observed in a previous Fermilab experiment was the footprint of a sterile neutrino or a new type of background.

Before they can do that, however, MicroBooNE will have to collect data for several years.

During this time, MicroBooNE will also be the first liquid-argon detector to measure neutrino interactions from a beam of such low energy. At less than 800 MeV (megaelectronvolts), this beam produces the lowest-energy neutrinos yet to be observed with a liquid-argon detector.

MicroBooNE is part of Fermilab's Short-Baseline Neutrino program, and scientists will eventually add two more detectors (ICARUS and the Short-Baseline Near Detector) to its neutrino beamline.

Chris Patrick

Neutrino scientists in Fermilab's Remote Operations Center West anticipate first beam in MicroBooNE's detector. Photo: Reidar Hahn
In Brief

Kautz Road closed - Nov. 4-5

Click to enlarge view of Kautz Road closure.

As part of a utilities upgrade project, a section of Kautz Road near the west Booster Tower, as well as a part of the nearby parking lot, will be closed from Nov. 4-5.

Detour signs and flagmen will be posted to facilitate traffic flow. Please follow the signs and drive safely. Refer to the above map for more information.

Further construction projects will take place throughout November. FESS will announce them as the construction dates approach.

Photo of the Day

Little turtles

nature, animal, wildlife, reptile, turtle
These little guys, barely two inches long, were recently seen wandering in the parking lot west of Wilson Hall. Photo: Patrick Sheahan, AD
nature, animal, wildlife, reptile, turtle
They were safely relocated to the swampy area by the pedestrian bridge, where they appear much happier. Photo: Patrick Sheahan, AD
In the News

China to start work on supercollider by 2020, staking claim as science leader

From The Guardian, Oct. 29, 2015

China will begin work on the world's largest supercollider in 2020, a mega-machine aimed at increasing understanding of the elusive Higgs boson, state-run media has reported.

The facility, designed to smash subatomic particles together at enormous speed, will reportedly be at least twice the size of Europe's physics lab, the Swiss-based Cern, where the Higgs boson was discovered.

Scientists believe the Higgs — sometimes dubbed the "God particle" — endows mass, making it a fundamental building block of the universe.

The final concept design for the project is on track for completion by the end of 2016, Wang Yifang, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics at the China Academy of Sciences, told the China Daily.

Read more

In the News

Exploding stars could be lit by hearts of dark matter

From New Scientist, Oct. 28, 2015

Exploding stars may have dark fuses. The same mysterious stuff that holds clusters of galaxies together could also be responsible for blowing stars apart.

Stars shine by fusing hydrogen into heavier elements, and the energy from these reactions keeps the star from collapsing in on itself.

Once it has exhausted all of its fuel, a star will collapse under its own gravity. If it started out with 1.4 times the mass of the sun or less, it will become a dense white dwarf, which can pack the mass of the sun into an Earth-sized volume. Any heavier than that, and it will explode as a supernova.

White dwarfs in turn only explode if they find a way to gain mass, which turns them into a variety of supernova called a type Ia. Astronomers thought white dwarfs gained mass from a companion star, but about half of the type Ia supernovae we see show no signs of having had a companion.

Now Joseph Bramante at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana says dark matter could provide the missing mass.

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