How It Works

What Are Neutrinos?

Neutrinos are elementary subatomic particles with no electric charge, almost no mass and half a unit of spin. As neutrinos are electrically neutral they are not affected by electromagnetic forces and, as such, are differentiated from charged particles such as protons and electrons. In contrast, neutrinos are only affected by the weak force that underlies certain processes of radioactive decay. There are three types of neutrino: electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos and tau neutrinos – each which are partnered by a corresponding antiparticle – referred to as an antineutrino – with an opposite chirality (a property of asymmetry).

Interestingly, neutrinos pose both problems and solutions to astrophysicists. The problem stems from their exceedingly low mass and neutral charge, properties that lead them to interact exceedingly weakly with other particles and fields. This makes them incredibly difficult to detect; indeed, there are only a handful of neutrino detectors on Earth. However, their weak interactions could also be useful if recorded or harnessed, as they are the only known particles that are not significantly weakened by travel through an interstellar medium, allowing scientists to probe and study distant areas of space.

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