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Fermilab experiment sees first long-distance neutrinos

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

BATAVIA – Fermilab officials working on the world’s longest-distance neutrino experiment announced Tuesday that they have seen their first neutrinos.

The NOvA experiment consists of two huge particle detectors placed 500 miles apart, and its job is to explore the properties of an intense beam of ghostly particles called neutrinos. Neutrinos are abundant in nature, but they very rarely interact with other matter.

Studying them could yield crucial information about the early moments of the universe, Fermilab officials said.

“NOvA represents a new generation of neutrino experiments,” Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer said in a news release. “We are proud to reach this important milestone on our way to learning more about these fundamental particles.”

Scientists generate a beam of the particles for the NOvA experiment using one of the world’s largest accelerators located at Fermilab. They aim this beam in the direction of the two particle detectors, one near the source at Fermilab and the other in Ash River, Minn., near the Canadian border.

The detector in Ash River is operated by the University of Minnesota under a cooperative agreement with the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

“The first neutrinos mean we’re on our way,” said Harvard physicist Gary Feldman, who has been a co-leader of the experiment from the beginning. “We started meeting more than 10 years ago to discuss how to design this experiment, so we are eager to get underway.”

The NOvA experiment is scheduled to run for six years.

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