Scientists have discovered neutrinos formed during a largely mysterious process in the sun, in what they hail as a major breakthrough.
The discovery can help reveal the structure of our sun and the elements within its core. But it could also allow us to better understand other phenomena throughout the universe, such as supernovae or the inside of distant stars.
The detection was made using Borexino Collaboration, a large particle physics experiment in Italy and worked on by researchers from around the world. It aims to better understand the processes that drive the sun, as well as the processes of other stars.
An expert not involved in the research said the new findings “blew past a milestone in neutrino physics”
“Measurements of these neutrinos have the potential to resolve uncertainties about the composition of the solar core and offer crucial insights into the formation of heavy stars,” wrote Gabriel D Orebi Gann of the University of California, Berkeley, in an accompanying article. the publication of research in Nature.
“The tremendous performance of the Borexino collaboration brings us closer to a complete understanding of our sun and the formation of massive stars and is likely to define the goal in this field in the years to come.”
Stars shine from the nuclear fusion of hydrogen to helium. This can happen in two ways: what is called the proton – proton or pp chain, which involves only hydrogen and helium, or carbon-nitrogen-oxygen or CNO cycle, where the fusion is catalyzed by carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.
In our own sun and other stars of the same size, the pp chain accounts for about 99 percent of the energy. Researchers have been studying it thoroughly since the early 1970s, and the Borexino experiment has contributed to a comprehensive understanding of the processes that govern it.
But the CNO cycle – which represents a small but important minority of energy production – has proved almost exclusively. The small number of neutrinos coming from this mechanism means that they are difficult to distinguish from background signals.
Now, researchers say, however, they have discovered neutrinos coming from this process. Because the Borexino detector is sensitive and highly tuned to block background noise – as a result of recent breakthroughs that allow the detector to stop the detector’s pollution – it was able to specifically capture the neutrinos that have remained so far. mysterious.
It is the first time ever that scientists have been able to assemble these neutrinos – or direct evidence of the CNO cycle in any form at all. It is the first time that humanity has seen evidence of the mechanism that converts hydrogen to helium throughout the universe.
It also confirms theories about this cycle, including the fact that it only accounts for one percent of the sun’s energy.
Although it is a small part of the sun’s power, the discovery could lead to major breakthroughs in the understanding of stars, the researchers say. The measurements can be used to understand how much carbon, nitrogen and oxygen can be found in stars like our sun and how it can be structured.
Moreover, other, heavier stars are believed to rely on the CNO cycle much more than our own sun, where this process is the dominant way of producing energy. The new findings could help show if this is true and to what extent so we can also understand how other stars get power.