June 2, 2010

Spotted: The Neutrino Chameleon

A bit of exciting news coming from Italy's OPERA experiment at the INFN's San Grasso Laboratory: for the first time ever, researchers have directly observed a muon-neutrino changing into a tau-neutrino! This is significant because, since the 1960s, physicists have predicted such an oscillation must be the cause of an apparent deficit in muon-neutrinos arriving to earth from the sun. Rolf Heuer says "This is an important step for neutrino physics...we're all looking forward to the new physics this result presages."

This discovery could also have significant impact on string theory research--or, at least, it bolsters the notion that the Standard Model is incomplete by effectively proving that neutrinos have mass (which is required in order to oscillate; the current Standard Model theory holds that neutrinos have no mass). Should scientists uncover the math behind this inconsistency by observing one or many of the "missing" neutrinos at CERN, many of the most profound questions about mass may be resolved, including the tantalizing mystery surrounding dark matter.

Speaking of that elusive stuff (which accounts for about 25% of the universe), this month CERN is releasing the brilliant ATLAS pop-up book in the United States, which colorfully examines what the universe is made of, where it came from, and how it works. It's a wonderful, intricately drawn introduction to the exciting things happening in theoretical physics right now, but also, it's just awesome!

And finally, today marks the start of the 2010 World Science Festival in New York. You'd be remiss not to check out the LIGO telescope at the Broad Street Ballroom, The Search for Life in the Universe at Galapagos Art Space, or The Moth storytellers at Webster Hall. And that's just a tiny sampling of the glut of science events hitting the city--it's a great time to be curious.