Late in the summer of 2010, a report appeared proposing that changes in the flux of neutrinos from the sun were altering the rate of radioactive decay here on earth (see the original paper; search also for “Fischbach” here). Many were stunned initially, because as coauthors Ephraim Fischbach and Jere Jenkins quipped “It doesn’t make sense according to conventional ideas,” (Fischbach), “What we’re suggesting is that something that doesn’t really interact with anything is changing something that can’t be changed,” (Jenkins). Needless to say, there was some skepticism as Discover.com’s Andrew Moseman found.
It turns out that Scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), working with researchers from Purdue University (including Jenkins and Fischbach), the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Wabash College, tested the hypothesis that solar radiation might affect the rate at which radioactive elements decay and found no detectable effect (original paper here).
Oh well. It looks like the neutrinos aren’t mutating after all. They don’t even seem to have anything to do with radioactive decay to begin with.
But wait! What if, as in the movie 2012, they built a powerful bleeding-edge neutrino detector deep underground in India so that some brilliant Indian scientist could check to see if maybe they really were mutating? They could call it, oh I don’t know, the Indian Neutrino Observatory (INO). Maybe, in late 2012, the scientist could utter that immortal phrase, “the neutrinos have mutated!“. We’ll just have to wait for the Bollywood version.
Update: Fourth Neutrino Flavor Discovered (Original article). Not a mutated neutrino, of course. It’s a brand new one. Uh-huh. Sure. New flavor. Mmmm, tasty, no? BTW, it has a probability for consistency with the background-only hypothesis of 0.5%. On the other hand, fitting for ν̅ μ→ν̅ e oscillations, the best-fit point has a χ2 probability of 8.7%.
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