Solar neutrino problem

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The solar neutrino problem was a major discrepancy between measurements of the numbers of neutrinos flowing through the Earth and theoretical models of the solar interior, lasting from the mid-1960s to about 2002. The discrepancy has since been resolved by new understanding of neutrino physics, requiring a modification of the Standard Model of particle physics – specifically, neutrino oscillation. Essentially, as neutrinos have mass, they can change from the type that had been expected to be produced in the Sun's interior into two types that would not be caught by the detectors in use at the time.



The Sun is a natural nuclear fusion reactor, powered by a proton–proton chain reaction which converts four hydrogen nuclei (protons) into helium, neutrinos, positrons and energy. The excess energy is released as gamma rays and as kinetic energy of the particles, including the neutrinos — which travel from the Sun's core to Earth without any appreciable absorption by the Sun's outer layers.

As neutrino detectors became sensitive enough to measure the flow of neutrinos from the Sun, it became clear that the number detected was lower than that predicted by models of the solar interior. In various experiments, the number of detected neutrinos was between one third and one half of the predicted number. This came to be known as the solar neutrino problem.


In the late 1960s, Ray Davis's and John N. Bahcall's Homestake Experiment was the first to measure the flux of neutrinos from the Sun and detect a deficit. The experiment used a chlorine-based detector. Many subsequent radiochemical and water Cerenkov detectors confirmed the deficit, including the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.

The expected number of solar neutrinos had been computed based on the Standard Solar Model which Bahcall had helped to establish and which gives a detailed account of the Sun's internal operation.

In 2002 Raymond Davis Jr. and Masatoshi Koshiba won part of the Nobel Prize in Physics for experimental work that found the number of solar neutrinos was around a third of the number predicted by the Standard Solar Model.[1]

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