An experiment in Italy has reported new findings confirming a long-standing theory of nuclear fusion in our Sun. The researchers were able to detect neutrinos released by the relatively rare fusion of carbon and nitrogen. But catching those neutrinos took an impressive fluid dynamical feat.
The Borexino solar-neutrino detector is essentially an enormous nylon balloon, filled with liquid hydrocarbons, immersed in water, and buried beneath a kilometer of rock. Most neutrinos fly through this milieu unhindered, but a few collide with hydrocarbon molecules, creating streaks of light picked up by the detector.
The challenge in distinguishing solar carbon-nitrogen neutrinos comes from an isotope in the balloon’s nylon lining, which slowly leaks into the detector. The noise caused by the leaking isotope is easily confused with the true solar signal. To tamp down on that noise level, the researchers took elaborate steps to ensure that all 278 tonnes of liquid in the detector remained at exactly the same temperature, thereby eliminating convection in the detector. With only molecular diffusion to move the noisy isotopes, the researchers held the liquid incredibly still. One team member described the fluid as moving only tenths of a centimeter a month! (Image credit: NASA SDO; via Nature; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)