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Gizmorama - April 16, 2018

Good Morning,

The Department of Energy's Fermilab have had a breakthrough! Precise measurements of the interactions between neutrinos hitting the atomic nuclei. Take it from me, this is huge! Or microscopic, whichever way you look at it.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Fermilab breakthrough: Scientists record unprecedented neutrino measurement --*

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the interactions between neutrinos hitting the atomic nuclei in the heart of the Department of Energy's Fermilab particle detector.

The findings -- detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters -- remove much of the uncertainty undermining theoretical models of neutrino oscillations and interactions.

"The issue of neutrino energy is so important," Fermilab researcher Joshua Spitz, a professor or particle physics at the University of Michigan, said in a news release. "It is extraordinarily rare to know the energy of a neutrino and how much energy it transfers to the target atom. For neutrino-based studies of nuclei, this is the first time it has been achieved."

Neutrinos possess an extremely weak nuclear force and are without a charge, making them much more sensitive to interactions with an atom's nucleus. As such, they can help scientists analyze the inner workings of atomic nuclei. The only problem is they're very hard to create, isolate and measure.

To study the atomic nuclei, researchers use the particle accelerator to propel particles at nuclei at high speeds. A direct hit can break apart the nucleus and illuminate its inner workings.

But to properly interpret the collision and breakup, scientists need to understand the energy properties of the accelerated particle, the muon neutrino.

The accelerator launches millions of tiny particles at the MiniBooNE detector, not all with the same energy signature. Because scientists don't have a way to filter the muon neutrinos, they can't be sure which are responsible for the measured collisions.

However, Spitz and his colleagues have developed a workaround.

Neutrinos are produced from the decay of particles called kaons. Decaying kaons yield muon neutrinos with a range of energies. But using conservation of energy and momentum principles, scientists determined that muon neutrinos produced by kaon-at-rest decay would have the precise energy of 236 million electronvolts.

"It is not often in neutrino physics that you know the energy of the incoming neutrino," said Richard Van De Water, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "With the first observation by MiniBooNE of monoenergetic muon neutrinos from kaon decay, we can study the charged current interactions with a known probe that enable theorists to improve their cross section models. This is important work for the future short- and long-baseline neutrino programs at Fermilab."

*-- Trace Gas Orbiter reaches stable Mars orbit, ready to start science mission --*

After a year of aerobraking, the Trace Gas Orbiter has finally reached a stable orbit around Mars and will soon commence with its science mission.

The Trace Gas Orbiter is the European Space Agency's newest Martian probe. It's goal is to survey the Red Planet's atmosphere in search of gases that could offer insights into geological or biological activity happening on Mars' surface.

For the last 12 months, TGO has been skimming across the top of Mars' atmosphere, using the drag on its solar arrays to reshape its orbit. The probe's once highly elliptical orbit is now rather circular.

"This is a major milestone for our ExoMars program and a fantastic achievement for Europe," Pia Mitschdoerfer, Trace Gas Orbiter mission manager, said in a news release. "We have reached this orbit for the first time through aerobraking and with the heaviest orbiter ever sent to the Red Planet, ready to start searching for signs of life from orbit."

The probe will begin gathering atmospheric data in less than two weeks.

"We have the sensitivity to detect rare gases in minute proportions, with the potential to discover if Mars is still active today -- biologically or geologically speaking," said Håkan Svedhem, the orbiter's project scientist.

As the probe's name implies, its instruments are designed to measure trace gases -- those that make up less than 1 percent of the Martian atmosphere -- such as methane. On Earth, methane is primarily produced by living organisms, but geological processes, including volcanic and hydrothermal activity, also release methane into the atmosphere.

Because methane on Mars is expected to have a relatively short shelf life, roughly 400 years, scientists can be sure any trace amounts detected by the probe were recently released.

Readings by instruments on ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Curiosity rover have previously suggested the presence of methane on Mars, but many scientists remain unconvinced.

The Trace Gas Orbiter's gas-detection instruments are more precise and specifically designed to measure tiny concentrations of gas molecules.


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