The giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way may be producing mysterious particles called neutrinos. If confirmed, this would be the first time that scientists have traced neutrinos back to a black hole.
The evidence for this came from three NASA satellites that observe in X-ray light: the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Swift gamma-ray mission, and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR).
Neutrinos are tiny particles that carry no charge and interact very weakly with electrons and protons. Unlike light or charged particles, neutrinos can emerge from deep within their cosmic sources and travel across the universe without being absorbed by intervening matter or, in the case of charged particles, deflected by magnetic fields.
The Earth is constantly bombarded with neutrinos from the sun. However, neutrinos from beyond the solar system can be millions or billions of times more energetic. Scientists have long been searching for the origin of ultra-high energy and very high-energy neutrinos.
“Figuring out where high-energy neutrinos come from is one of the biggest problems in astrophysics today,” said Yang Bai of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who co-authored a study about these results published in Physical Review D. “We now have the first evidence that an astronomical source – the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole – may be producing these very energetic neutrinos.”
Because neutrinos pass through material very easily, it is extremely difficult to build detectors that reveal exactly where the neutrino came from. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory, located under the South Pole, has detected 36 high-energy neutrinos since the facility became operational in 2010.
By pairing IceCube’s capabilities with the data from the three X-ray telescopes, scientists were able to look for violent events in space that corresponded with the arrival of a high-energy neutrino here on Earth.
“We checked to see what happened after Chandra witnessed the biggest outburst ever detected from Sagittarius A*, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole,” said co-author Andrea Peterson, also of the University of Wisconsin. “And less than three hours later, there was a neutrino detection at IceCube.”
In addition, several neutrino detections appeared within a few days of flares from the supermassive black hole that were observed with Swift and NuSTAR.
“It would be a very big deal if we find out that Sagittarius A* produces neutrinos,” said co-author Amy Barger of the University of Wisconsin. “It’s a very promising lead for scientists to follow.”
Scientists think that the highest energy neutrinos were created in the most powerful events in the Universe like galaxy mergers, material falling onto supermassive black holes, and the winds around dense rotating stars called pulsars.
The team of researchers is still trying to develop a case for how Sagittarius A* might produce neutrinos. One idea is that it could happen when particles around the black hole are accelerated by a shock wave, like a sonic boom, that produces charged particles that decay to neutrinos.
This latest result may also contribute to the understanding of another major puzzle in astrophysics: the source of high-energy cosmic rays. Since the charged particles that make up cosmic rays are deflected by magnetic fields in our Galaxy, scientists have been unable to pinpoint their origin. The charged particles accelerated by a shock wave near Sgr A* may be a significant source of very energetic cosmic rays.
The paper describing these results is available online. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.
An interactive image, a podcast, and a video about these findings are available at:
For Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:
—-Daya Bay neutrino experiment publishes a new result on its first search for a “sterile” neutrino
BEIJING; BERKELEY, CA; and UPTON, NY—The Daya Bay Collaboration, an international group of scientists studying the subtle transformations of subatomic particles called neutrinos, is publishing its first results on the search for a so-called sterile neutrino, a possible new type of neutrino beyond the three known neutrino “flavors,” or types. The existence of this elusive particle, if proven, would have a profound impact on our understanding of the universe, and could impact the design of future neutrino experiments. The new results, appearing in the journal Physical Review Letters, show no evidence for sterile neutrinos in a previously unexplored mass range.
There is strong theoretical motivation for sterile neutrinos. Yet, the experimental landscape is unsettled—several experiments have hinted that sterile neutrinos may exist, but the others yielded null results. Having amassed one of the largest samples of neutrinos in the world, the Daya Bay Experiment is poised to shed light on the existence of sterile neutrinos.
The Daya Bay Experiment is situated close to the Daya Bay and Ling Ao nuclear power plants in China, 55 kilometers northeast of Hong Kong. These reactors produce a steady flux of antineutrinos that the Daya Bay Collaboration scientists use for research at detectors located at varying distances from the reactors. The collaboration includes more than 200 scientists from six regions and countries.
The Daya Bay experiment began its operation on December 24, 2011. Soon after, in March 2012, the collaboration announced its first results: the observation of a new type of neutrino oscillation—evidence that these particles mix and change flavors from one type to others—and a precise determination of a neutrino “mixing angle,” called θ13, which is a definitive measure of the mixing of at least three mass states of neutrinos.
The fact that neutrinos have mass at all is a relatively new discovery, as is the observation at Daya Bay that the electron neutrino is a mixture of at least three mass states. While scientists don’t know the exact values of the neutrino masses, they are able to measure the differences between them, or “mass splittings.” They also know that these particles are dramatically less massive than the well-known electron, though both are members of the family of particles called “leptons.”
These unexpected observations have led to the possibility that the electrically neutral, almost undetectable neutrino could be a special type of matter and a very important component of the mass of the universe. Given that the nature of matter and in particular the property of mass is one of the fundamental questions in science, these new revelations about the neutrino make it clear that it is important to search for other light neutral particles that might be partners of the active neutrinos, and may contribute to the dark matter of the universe.
Search for a light sterile neutrino
The new Daya Bay paper describes the search for such a light neutral particle, the “sterile neutrino,” by looking for evidence that it mixes with the three known neutrino types—electron, muon, and tau. If, like the known flavors, the sterile neutrino also exists as a mixture of different masses, it would lead to mixing of neutrinos from known flavors to the sterile flavor, thus giving scientists proof of its existence. That proof would show up as a disappearance of neutrinos of known flavors.
Measuring disappearing neutrinos isn’t as strange as it seems. In fact that’s how Daya Bay scientists detect neutrino oscillations. The scientists count how many of the millions of quadrillions of electron antineutrinos produced every second by the six China General Nuclear Power Group reactors are captured by the detectors located in three experimental halls built at varying distances from the reactors. The detectors are only sensitive to electron antineutrinos. Calculations based on the number that disappear along the way to the farthest reactor give them information about how many have changed flavors.
The rate at which they transform is the basis for measuring the mixing angles (for example, θ13), and the mass splitting is determined by how the rate of transformation depends on the neutrino energy and the distance between the reactor and the detector.
That distance is also referred to as the “baseline.” With six detectors strategically positioned at three separate locations to catch antineutrinos generated from the three pairs of reactors, Daya Bay provides a unique opportunity to search for a light sterile neutrino with baselines ranging from 360 meters to 1.8 kilometers.
Daya Bay performed its first search for a light sterile neutrino using the energy dependence of detected electron antineutrinos from the reactors. Within the searched mass range for a fourth possible mass state, Daya Bay found no evidence for the existence of a sterile neutrino.
This data represents the best world limit on sterile neutrinos over a wide range of masses and so far supports the standard three-flavor neutrino picture. Given the importance of clarifying the existence of the sterile neutrino, there are continuous quests by many scientists and experiments. The Daya Bay’s new result remarkably narrowed down the unexplored area.
By Frank Wuerthwein, Keith Ulmer and Guillelmo Gomez Ceballos.
Among the leading candidates to describe physics beyond the standard model of particle physics is Supersymmetry, a new symmetry that posits the existence of a partner particle for each known particle in the standard model. Supersymmetry, or “SUSY” as it has come to be known, may help explain the nature of dark matter and the large difference in strength between the fundamental forces of nature. Each year, new experimental results and theoretical developments are reported in the “SUSY” conference series, with the 2014 edition (SUSY2014) happening this week in Manchester, England.
Experimental evidence for SUSY has been sought for many years at multiple colliders, including a vast array of search results from the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. With data from Run 1 of the LHC collected through the end of 2012, the full set of results thus far has not revealed any striking signs of physics beyond the standard model . New searches presented at SUSY2014 have begun to probe increasingly complicated potential decay chains and to combine multiple searches to access more challenging new physics scenarios. Below we highlight some of the most recent results first presented this summer at SUSY14 and ICHEP 2014 .
Search for new physics in the final states hh, Zh, and ZZ plus MET
After its discovery only two years ago, the Higgs boson is already a powerful tool in the search for new physics. Earlier this year, CMS submitted for publication  a set of searches for associate production of W, Higgs, and missing transverse energy (“MET”, indicative of particles escaping the detector). At ICHEP this summer, CMS presented the first combined searches for hh, Zh, and ZZ plus MET. No excess above standard model backgrounds is observed. Figure 1 shows the interpretation of the results in terms of limits on higgsino pair production as a function of the higgsino mass and decay branching fraction. Within the framework of Gauge Mediated Supersymmetry Breaking (GMSB), the neutral higgsino decays to a gravitino and either a higgs or Z boson. The left plot in Figure 1 shows that CMS excludes higgsino production up to ~ 300GeV when the higgsino decays at equal rate to either of these two decays. The right plot in Figure 1 indicates that four different final states dominate the sensitivity in different parts of the 2D parameter space, clearly demonstrating that searches for new physics with one or two higgs bosons in the final state benefit greatly from combining many different decay channels.
Search for gluino pair production via the decays to top pairs, bottom pairs, or top and bottom plus MET
Up to now, CMS searches for gluino pair production inspired by “natural SUSY” (i.e. SUSY in which the masses of the SUSY partners are not much higher than those of the Higgs boson) have focused on final states with either four top or four b-quarks plus MET. In contrast, theoretically any combination of MET plus 4 quarks, top or bottom, is well justified. At ICHEP, CMS presented the first complete exploration of sensitivity across the full set of possible final states and branching fractions. Figure 2 shows the corresponding exclusion curves in the gluino vs neutralino mass plane. This search employs the so-called “razor” variables, and its sensitivity is dominated by all-hadronic final states. The more top quarks there are in the final state for a given gluino mass, the less momentum is left for all the decay products, and the harder it is thus to distinguish signal from background. Accordingly, the sensitivity decreases as the number of top quarks per event increases.
Searching for SUSY with an “Edge”
The dilepton invariant mass distribution for leptons from the decays χ20 to l+l- χ10, or similar decays via a slepton as an intermediate state, display the striking feature of a kinematic “edge” [5, 6]. As these decays conserve lepton flavor, this edge is present only in same-flavor events, i.e. ee and μμ, and is completely absent in the “opposite flavor” lepton sample, i.e. eμ events. In contrast, backgrounds for which each of the two leptons come from a different W decay, e.g. top pairs, WW, etc., will have identical dilepton distributions for same and opposite flavor. Thus, the eμ sample in data provides a perfect model of the background dilepton mass distribution – modulo effects from the trigger and lepton reconstruction. The kinematic edge is a sufficiently striking signature to reveal new physics even at relatively modest hadronic activity, HT and MET, i.e. in the presence of sizeable top and Z backgrounds.
CMS presented a search for such an “edge” in dilepton events with jets and MET at SUSY2014 using the full 8TeV data sample . Figure 3 overlays the dilepton mass distribution in ee plus μμ (data points), with the corresponding one from eμ (pink histogram). The blue shaded region depicts the systematic error envelope for the background prediction. A small excess is visible below the Z peak. A signal region of 20GeV < mll < 70GeV was chosen before data taking. Within this region, 860 events are observed with an expected standard model background yield of 730 ± 40. The small excess is consistent with a 2.6 sigma fluctuation of the standard model background. For more details see .
Search for additional neutral MSSM Higgs bosons in the H→ττ decay channel
Another highlight among the CMS results presented at the SUSY2014 conference is the search for additional neutral Higgs bosons decaying to τ leptons, which is the most promising channel to search for such Higgs bosons in the context of the minimal SUSY extension of the standard model, the MSSM. Following the release of a preliminary result based on the full data set of the 2011/2012 data taking period , additional results based on a new interpretation of the data have been presented at this conference for the first time . While the data selection has not changed, extensive work has set the ground for a new interpretation of the data in the context of modern benchmark models. In particular, the new models take into account the presence of the recently discovered Higgs boson with a mass of 125 GeV, as proposed in . Also for the first time the model-dependent exclusion contours as a function of the mass of the CP-odd Higgs boson, A, and the ratio of the vacuum expectation values of the two SUSY Higgs doublets, tanβ, have been derived, taking the presence of the newly discovered Higgs boson properly into account in the test statistic. As recently demonstrated by CMS , all observations of the new boson are so far compatible with the SM expectation within ~10% accuracy, which justifies the standard model hypothesis to be the better choice for the test statistic. The hypothesis test now becomes a search based on a model with three Higgs bosons compared against the standard model with only one Higgs boson. Traditional limits, based on the test statistic excluding the Higgs boson from the standard model hypothesis have also been made public on the CMS web-pages . Also made available to the public is an extended database of results based on a model-independent single-resonance search model, which will be extremely valuable to theorists engaged in model building. Figure 1 shows the exclusion contour in a modified mh,max scenario, also referred to as mh,mod+ exploiting the new statistical treatment for the statistical inference.
By Frank Wuerthwein, Keith Ulmer and Guillelmo Gomez Ceballos.