They are electrically neutral, and they’re very small. So Enrico Fermi called them neutrinos! (Italian for “little neutral thingy.”)
Some facts about the amazing neutrino:
- Many trillions of them zip through your body every day. They don’t even know you’re there. (Trillion is a crazy concept. A trillion, just to remind you, is a thousand billion. Or a thousand thousand million.)
- They rarely react to anything. Lead is pretty dense, right? An average neutrino would fly through a thousand light years of solid lead before reacting with an atom. (Again, just to remind you, a single light year is 5,865,696,000,000 miles.)
My mom asked me why she should care. I had a reason. Something I don’t really understand about using neutrinos to detect anti-neutrinos and thereby understand how much radiation the earth is, um, losing, or, that is… something. I don’t know.
But how about caring just ’cause there exist such amazing things in the universe?
John Updike cares. Here’s a poem he wrote, before neutrinos were discovered to have mass:
Neutrinos they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed – you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.