'We Don't Planet' Episode 14: Neutrinos

Neutrinos are ghostly particles that hardly ever interact with normal matter. Chargeless, they simply do not interact with the electromagnetic force and thus do not participate in most everyday interactions.

However, they do play an important role in nuclear reactions, since neutrinos do interact via the weak nuclear force. The fusion reaction chain that merges hydrogen into helium in the core of the sun naturally produces neutrinos as a byproduct, and sensitive detectors (ones capable of observing an incredibly rare weak-force scattering event as trillions of neutrinos pass seamlessly through the apparatus) can thus be used to probe the nuclear heart of our nearest star.

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Interestingly, neutrinos kinds aren’t fixed as they propagate through space. What starts off as an electron-neutrino can transmute into a muon-neutrino or tau-neutrino en route, before cycling back. 

"We Don't Planet" is hosted by Ohio State University astrophysicist and COSI chief scientist Paul Sutterwith undergraduate student Anna Voelker. Produced by Doug Dangler, ASC Technology Services. Supported by The Ohio State University Department of Astronomyand Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics. You can follow Paul on Twitterand Facebook.

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Paul Sutter
Space.com Contributor

Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist at SUNY Stony Brook and the Flatiron Institute in New York City. Paul received his PhD in Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011, and spent three years at the Paris Institute of Astrophysics, followed by a research fellowship in Trieste, Italy, His research focuses on many diverse topics, from the emptiest regions of the universe to the earliest moments of the Big Bang to the hunt for the first stars. As an "Agent to the Stars," Paul has passionately engaged the public in science outreach for several years. He is the host of the popular "Ask a Spaceman!" podcast, author of "Your Place in the Universe" and "How to Die in Space" and he frequently appears on TV — including on The Weather Channel, for which he serves as Official Space Specialist.