50 years ago, neutrinos ghosted scientists

Excerpt from the July 20, 1968 issue of Science News

IceCube Neutrino Observatory

PARTICULATE PURSUITS Lightweight particles from outer space called neutrinos, caught by particle detectors like the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica (shown), are giving new insight into a menagerie of celestial objects.  

Martin Wolf, IceCube/NSF

Tracking the neutrino

The definite detection of nonterrestrial neutrinos, whether from the sun or from beyond the solar system, will yield a far deeper understanding of stellar interiors and, therefore, of how today’s universe came to be. — Science News, July 20, 1968.


In May 1968, researchers reported that a particle detector in South Dakota spotted ghostly subatomic particles called neutrinos from the sun, but only about a third as many as theories predicted. The shortage vexed physicists for decades, until the 2001 discovery that many of the sun’s electron neutrinos — the only kind the South Dakota detector was designed to find — switch flavors on their way to Earth, becoming muon and tau neutrinos (SN: 6/23/01, p. 388). That switch accounted for the sun’s missing neutrinos. Detectors have also glimpsed neutrinos spawned by supernova 1987A (SN: 3/7/87, p. 148) and even a supermassive black hole (SN Online: 7/12/18).

Editor’s Note: This story was updated July 13, 2018, to clarify that black holes are a source of neutrinos.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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