News FocusParticle Physics

The Sterile Neutrino: Fertile Concept or Dead End?

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Science  21 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6054, pp. 304-306
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6054.304

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For 15 years, researchers have accumulated hints that the "sterile neutrino"—a more-elusive cousin of the nearly undetectable neutrinos—might be out there. But most physicists have found the evidence unconvincing, as most of the results pointing toward sterile neutrinos are of marginal statistical significance. Recently, however, the case for sterile neutrinos has grown stronger, bolstered by a new analysis of data from nuclear reactors. So last month 60 physicists from around the world gathered to hash out the arguments for and against the existence of sterile neutrinos and to try to decide whether it's worth staging a dedicated experiment to settle the matter. Performing such an experiment won't be easy. The hypothetical neutrinos are called sterile because they do not interact at all with known particles. Still, physicists say, it's time to figure out what it will take to discover or rule out sterile neutrinos once and for all.