Around the turn of the millennium, Takaaki Kajita presented the discovery that neutrinos from the atmosphere switch between two identities on their way to the Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan.
Meanwhile, the research group in Canada led by Arthur B. McDonald could demonstrate that the neutrinos from the Sun were not disappearing on their way to Earth. Instead they were captured with a different identity when arriving to the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.
A neutrino puzzle that physicists had wrestled with for decades had been resolved. Compared to theoretical calculations of the number of neutrinos, up to two thirds of the neutrinos were missing in measurements performed on Earth. Now, the two experiments discovered that the neutrinos had changed identities.
The discovery led to the far-reaching conclusion that neutrinos, which for a long time were considered massless, must have some mass, however small.
The discovery rewarded with this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics has yielded crucial insights into the all but hidden world of neutrinos. After photons, the particles of light, neutrinos are the most numerous in the entire cosmos. Earth is bombarded constantly by them.
Many neutrinos are created in reactions between cosmic radiation and Earth’s atmosphere. Others are produced in nuclear reactions inside the Sun. Thousands of billions of neutrinos are streaming through our bodies each second. Hardly anything can stop them passing; neutrinos are nature’s most elusive elementary particles.
Now the experiments continue, and intense activity is underway worldwide in order to capture neutrinos and examine their properties. New discoveries about their deepest secrets are expected to change our current understanding of the history, structure, and future fate of the universe.