Where did the antimatter go? Neutrinos shed promising new light

April 15, 2020

We live in a world of matter - because matter overtook antimatter, though they were both created in equal amounts by the Big Bang when our universe began. As featured on the cover of Nature on 16 April 2020, neutrinos and the associated antimatter particles, antineutrinos, are reported to have a high likelihood of differing behaviour that offers a promising path to explaining the asymmetry between matter and antimatter. These observations may explain this mysterious antimatter disappearance. They come from the T2K experiment conducted in Japan and in which three French laboratories are involved, affiliated with the CNRS, École Polytechnique - Institut Polytechnique de Paris, Sorbonne Université and the CEA.

Physicists have long been convinced, from their experiments, that matter and antimatter were created in equal quantities at the beginning of the universe. When they interact, matter and antimatter particles destroy each other, which should have left the universe empty, containing only energy. But as we can see from looking around us, matter won out over antimatter. To explain this imbalance, physicists look for asymmetry in how matter and antimatter particles behave, asymmetry that they call violation of the Charge-Parity (CP) symmetry (1).

For decades, scientists have detected symmetry violations between quarks (components of atoms) and their antiparticles. However, this violation is not large enough to explain the disappearance of antimatter in the universe. Another path looks promising: asymmetry between the behaviour of neutrinos and antineutrinos could fill in a large part of the missing answer. This is what the T2K (2) experiment is researching. It is located in Japan; its French collaborators are the Leprince-Ringuet Laboratory (CNRS/École Polytechnique - Institut Polytechnique de Paris), the Laboratoire de Physique Nucléaire and des Hautes Energies (CNRS/Sorbonne Université) and the CEA's Institut de Recherche sur les Lois Fondamentales de l'Univers.

Neutrinos are extremely light elementary particles. They pass through materials, are very difficult to detect, and are even harder to study precisely. Three kinds of neutrinos - or flavours - exist: the electron, muon and tau neutrinos. The behaviour that could differ for neutrinos and antineutrinos is oscillation, the capacity of these particles to change flavour as they propagate (3). The T2K experiment uses alternating beams of muon neutrinos and muon antineutrinos, produced by a particle accelerator at the J-PARC research centre, on Japan's east coast. Towards its west coast, a small fraction of the neutrino (or antineutrino) beams sent by J-PARC are detected using the light pattern that they leave in the 50,000 tonnes of water in the Super-Kamiokande detector, set up 1,000 metres deep in a former mine. During their 295 km journey through rock (taking a fraction of a second at the speed of light), some of the muon neutrinos (or antineutrinos) oscillated and took on another flavour, becoming electron neutrinos.

By counting the number of particles that reached Super-Kamiokande with a different flavour than the one they were produced with at J-PARC, the T2K collaboration has shown that neutrinos seem to oscillate more often than antineutrinos. The data even point to almost maximum asymmetry (See graph below) between how neutrinos and antineutrinos behave.

These results, the fruit of ten years of data accumulated in the Super-Kamiokande with a total of 90 electronic neutrinos and 15 electronic antineutrinos detected, are not yet statistically large enough to qualify this as a discovery; however it is a strong indication and an important step. The T2K experiment will now continue with higher sensitivity. A new generation of experiments should multiply data production in the coming years: Hyper-K, the successor to the Super-Kamiokande in Japan, whose construction has just been started, and Dune, being built in the USA, ought to be operational around 2027-2028. If their new data confirm the preliminary results from T2K, ten years from now neutrinos could provide the answer to why antimatter disappeared in our universe.
-end-
The T2K experiment was constructed and is operated by an international collaboration of about 500 scientists from 68 institutions in 12 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, UK, USA and Vietnam). This result is made possible by the efforts of J-PARC to deliver high-quality beam to T2K.

The French laboratories have had major involvement in the construction and use of near detectors (which characterize the beam before the neutrinos have had time to change flavour) and in ancillary experiments conducted at CERN for better understanding the beam. They are very involved in the global analysis of data and are now engaged in the vast program of improvement for near detectors.

The T2K experiment is supported by the Japanese Ministry for Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), and is jointly hosted by the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) and the University of Tokyo's Institute for Cosmic Ray Research (ICRR).

Notes:

(1) When particles and antiparticles are exchanged, and we consider the experiment obtained by reflection in a mirror and the results are not the same, that is a violation of CP symmetry.

(2) T2K represents Tokai-to-Kamioka. Tokai and Kamioka are the two Japanese towns that each house one part of the experiment.

(3) This was first observed in the Super-Kamiokande in 2013.

CNRS

Related Neutrinos Articles from Brightsurf:

Big answers from tiny particles
A team of physicists led by Kanazawa University demonstrate a theoretical mechanism that would explain the tiny value for the mass of neutrinos and point out that key operators of the mechanism can be probed by current and future experiments.

Physicists cast doubt on neutrino theory
University of Cincinnati physicists, as part of an international research team, are raising doubts about the existence of an exotic subatomic particle that failed to show up in twin experiments.

Exotic neutrinos will be difficult to ferret out
An international team tracking the 'new physics' neutrinos has checked the data of all the relevant experiments associated with neutrino detections against Standard Model extensions proposed by theorists.

Excess neutrinos and missing gamma rays?
A new model points to the coronoe of supermassive black holes at the cores of active galaxies to help explain the excess neutrinos observed by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.

Where neutrinos come from
Russian astrophysicists have come close to solving the mystery of where high-energy neutrinos come from in space.

Where did the antimatter go? Neutrinos shed promising new light
We live in a world of matter -- because matter overtook antimatter, though they were both created in equal amounts when our universe began.

Strongest evidence yet that neutrinos explain how the universe exists
New data throws more support behind the theory that neutrinos are the reason the universe is dominated by matter.

Why didn't the universe annihilate itself? Neutrinos may hold the answer
New results from an experiment called T2K suggest that physicists are closer than ever before to answering a major mystery: Why didn't the universe annihilate itself in a humungous burst of energy not long after the Big Bang?

T2K insight into the origin of the universe
Lancaster physicists working on the T2K major international experiment in Japan are closing in on the mystery of why there is so much matter in the universe, and so little antimatter.

Radar and ice could help detect an elusive subatomic particle
A new study published today in the journal Physical Review Letters shows, for the first time, an experiment that could detect a class of ultra-high-energy neutrinos using radar echoes.

Read More: Neutrinos News and Neutrinos Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.