Reuters (Link) - Robert Evans (May 31, 2010)
Research scientists announced on Monday they had identified the missing piece of a major puzzle involving the make-up of the universe by observing a neutrino particle change from one type to another.
The CERN physics research center near Geneva, relaying the announcement from the Gran Sasso laboratory in central Italy, said the breakthrough was a major boost for its own LHC particle collider programme to unveil key secrets of the cosmos.
According to physicists at Gran Sasso, after three years of monitoring multiple billions of muon neutrinos beamed to them through the earth from CERN 730 kms (456 miles) away, they had spotted one that had turned into a tau neutrino.
Behind that scientific terminology lies the long-sought proof that the three varieties of neutrinos -- sub-atomic particles that with others form the universe’s basic elements -- can switch appearance, like the chameleon lizard.
The discovery is important, scientists say, because it helps explain why neutrinos arrive at earth from the sun in apparently far smaller numbers than they should under the Standard Model of physics that has held sway for some 80 years.
The fact that neutrinos are now proven to switch identities -- as posited by two Moscow scientists in the late 1960s based on earlier work by a U.S. physicist -- suggests that other types of neutrinos could exist but slip detection.