MIT Neutrino Experiment Finally Sheds Light on Why the Universe Evolved the Way It Did After the Big Bang
It's comforting to know that, for every flat-earther who launches himself into the atmosphere in a homemade rocket to prove the Earth is Frisbee-shaped, there is a team of scientists trying to figure out the origin of matter itself. That's not a joke—MIT is currently starting up research on a project called CUORE, which will explain why there's so much matter in the universe, rather than anti-matter.
According to the current theory of the universe's creation, the Big Bang should have created equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, but that's not the case—the universe seems heavily weighted in favor of matter (which includes everything from stars to space dust, and maybe dark matter—we're not sure). Every piece of matter has its dark reflection in anti-matter, which is identical to normal matter but with an opposite charge.
One example is an antiproton, a particle that's pretty much identical to a normal proton, but with a negative charge instead of a positive one.
One theory for why the universe is so lopsided has to do with neutrinos, tiny, ghost-like particles that don't seem to affect much of anything. It's hypothesized that when the Big Bang created all that matter and anti-matter, there was no anti-particle to counter neutrinos because neutrinos are their own anti-particle.
If this is the case, then neutrinos may be responsible for producing much more matter than scientists initially expected.
To test this hypothesis, scientists have to go to bizarre lengths to observe two neutrinos cancelling each other out, as a normal particle and anti-particle would. This involves 988 crystals of tellurium dioxide, the coldest refrigerator in the universe, and roughly 10 septillion years of waiting.
The MIT team is refrigerating all these crystals at a temperature of -459.6 degrees Fahrenheit (which makes that fridge the "coldest cubic meter that exists in the universe") in the hope that they can pick up the tiny spike in heat that comes from a "neutrinoless double-beta decay," the expelling of two electrons from the crystals.
Based on what we know of tellerium dioxide, every time it expels two electrons, there should also be two neutrinos.
If there isn't, then that's a potential smoking gun for neutrinos being their own antiparticles, since the only explanation for their absence would be that they annihilated each other. Normally, this process would normally happen once every 10 septillion years, but with 988 crystals, researchers are hoping to observe a neutrinoless double-beta decay in about five.
If they do, it's going to answer one the fundamental questions about the nature of the universe.