The subterranean neutrino detector known as the DUNE experiment will study neutrinos and anti-neutrinos and possibly unravel the secrets of the universe.
Neutrinos are some of the most mysterious particles in the universe. They’re strange, exotic bits of matter that are emitted by some nuclear reactions, and travel through space at nearly the speed of light. Trillions of them are created by the sun every second, and when they reach the Earth almost all of them pass right through it.
Studying these rare, elusive particles is not an easy task, which is why a new facility is being built in South Dakota to do just that.
Construction has just begun on the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility at the Sanford lab in South Dakota. The Sanford lab is built inside an abandoned gold mine a mile beneath the surface of the Earth. (No, it’s not the only lab of its kind.) Here it’s sheltered from atmospheric noise. Two kilometres of dirt and rock pose no obstacle to neutrinos, so this makes Sanford the perfect place to spot them.
Meanwhile, 1200 kilometres away at the Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory outside Chicago, a particle accelerator will make the neutrinos that Sanford will detect. These neutrinos will be shot through the Earth in the subterranean neutrino detector to Sanford, where they will be studied. This is the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).
A look at the subterranean neutrino detector
DUNE provides scientists a unique opportunity to study how neutrinos act over long distances. Because the scientists are creating the neutrinos themselves, they can compare what the neutrinos looked like when they left Chicago with how they look upon arriving in South Dakota.
This might sound meaningless, but neutrinos are able to shapeshift mid-flight. This discovery won a pair of physicists the Nobel Prize back in 2015. Studying this shapeshifting behavior would give scientists a better understanding of the elusive particle.
A year ago scientists running a similar experiment in Japan with anti-neutrinos. These are mirror opposite versions of regular neutrinos. The scientists spotted a strange difference between them and regular neutrinos. This difference isn’t predicted by current physics, which means studying this further could yield exciting new theories, possibly answering the question of why there’s a universe at all.
The science of the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment
More about the project
At least, it might when the experiment is finally operational sometime next decade. Right now, the excavation team is working on clearing almost 900,000 tons of rock. Once cleared, this subterranean space is where the detector will eventually be housed. After the construction is completed scientists and engineers can start working on building the massive detector. By the end of the decade we could have a brand new theory of physics.
Images credit: Sandbox Studio/Fermilab
Videos credit: Fermilab
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.