12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Trapping the Ghost Particle,
This review is from: Neutrino (Hardcover)We don't find it at all odd that photons, particles of light, should pass right through glass. Transparency is a property, though, that not all matter has, so the photons stop somewhere, and light up objects for us to see. It is peculiar, though, to think that other particles might find you and me transparent, or in fact shoot through the whole Earth (or anything else) as easily as photons go through glass. Such particles indeed exist. Neutrinos weigh almost nothing (gather 100,000 of them and you might outweigh an electron) and they have no charge, but they go almost as fast as light through matter as if it were not there, that is, they don't interact with whatever they are passing through. They have been called "ghost particles," but they are far more common than any spooks. According to _Neutrino_ (Oxford University Press) by physicist Frank Close, there are more neutrinos than there are electrons or any other subatomic particle. And they zip all around; something like forty million of them shoot through your eyeballs every second. Reading Close's book is a good introduction to a very peculiar particle, and to many allied themes in physics and cosmology. Be warned, however, that this is all so unlike the Newtonian physics and the high school chemistry with which you may be familiar that much of what Close describes is going to remain mysterious. As a tale about the hunt for the neutrino, and the tenacious researchers who lassoed the ghost, Close's brief book is a pleasing story about scientific success.
Like so many of the physics discoveries of the twentieth century, the neutrino was predicted as a theoretical particle before anyone had actually caught one, but Close writes, "The neutrino seemed to be a theorist's bad dream, a beautiful idea, destined forever to be unknowable to experiment." Physicists eventually realized that the huge numbers of neutrinos could work against the almost infinitesimal odds of catching one. What was eventually used was cleaning fluid, say 100,000 gallons of the stuff and deep in a mine to keep the detector isolated from any other influence. Neutrino detectors have gotten better. When in 1987 a supernova explosion was detected, the neutrinos were detected, too; there would have been no detectors available for them if they had passed this way a couple of decades before. We don't see such explosions very often; the most famous was in 1604. The Sun's neutrinos reach us in eight minutes; the explosion detected in1987 happened 170,000 years ago, and even at such range, the neutrinos were as numerous as the ones coming in from the Sun, an indication of the huge power in a supernova explosion.
Work is being undertaken to use detectors that will initiate the new field of neutrino astronomy; the results will supplement what light and radio telescopes are already telling us. It might be that neutrinos will be the perfect way for us to observe the center of our Milky Way, and they might provide more information about the Big Bang, dark matter, the asymmetry of the universe, and who knows what else. As up-to-date as Close's book is, the neutrino story is far from complete. Scientists got this far with inspired hunches, complicated experiments, and frustrating failures of international communication, along with surprising challenges to theories from pesky experimental results. Close's narrative is a good tale of how real science is done.