What was the “solar neutrino problem?”

Neutrinos Read more from
Chapter Weather in Space

From the very beginning of neutrino astronomy research, there was a discrepancy between the theory of nuclear fusion and the number of neutrinos detected from the Sun. Neutrino telescopes on Earth detected only about half as many neutrinos as they should have. This strange result was checked again and again and repeatedly confirmed. This became known as the solar neutrino problem. Was the Sun generating less energy at its core than expected? Was nuclear fusion theory wrong?

The problem was finally solved nearly four decades after it was first discovered. Neutrinos, as it turns out, can actually change their characteristics when they strike Earth’s atmosphere. That meant that there were the right number of neutrinos leaving the Sun, but so many of them changed “flavor” upon reaching Earth that they escaped detection by the neutrino telescopes deep underground. This discovery was a major breakthrough in fundamental physics. It confirmed very important properties about neutrinos that have major implications on the basic nature of matter in the universe.


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