The answer to one of the universe’s greatest mysteries may come down to one of the smallest and most frightening particles.
Matter is common in the cosmos. Everything around us – from planets to stars to puppies – is made up of matter. But matter has a reverse side: antimatter. Protons, electrons and other particles all have antimatter counterparts: antiprotons, positrons, etc. Yet, for some reason, antimatter is much rarer than matter – and no one knows why.
Physicists believe that the universe was born with equal amounts of matter and antimatter. Since matter and antimatter counterparts annihilate upon contact, this suggests that the universe should have ended up with nothing but energy. Something must have tipped the scales.
Some physicists believe that light subatomic particles called neutrinos could indicate an answer. These particles are extremely tinywith less than one millionth the mass of an electron (SN: 04/21/21). They are produced in radioactive decays and in the sun and other cosmic environments. Known for their ethereal tendency to evade detection, neutrinos have earned the nickname “ghost particles.” These spooky particles, originally thought to be massless, have a healthy balance sheet to produce scientific surprises (SN: 06/10/15).
Today, researchers are building huge detectors to find out if neutrinos could help solve the matter mystery of the universe. The Hyper-Kamiokande experience in Hida City, Japan, and Deep underground neutrino experiment in Lead, SD, will study neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos. A difference in the behavior of neutrinos and antineutrinos could suggest the origins of the matter-antimatter imbalance, the scientists suspect.
Watch the video below to find out how neutrinos could reveal why the universe contains, well, anything at all.