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Ghost catcher

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Science  09 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6453, pp. 532-535
DOI: 10.1126/science.365.6453.532

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Summary

After 4 days Lazarus rose from the grave, but physicists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, are resurrecting a massive particle detector by lowering it into a tomblike pit. Hauled from Europe 2 years ago, ICARUS—an outdated acronym for Imaging Cosmic and Rare Underground Signals—will soon start a second life seeking perhaps the strangest particles physicists have dreamed up, oddballs called sterile neutrinos. The experiment gives ICARUS another shot at glory. It ran nearly a decade ago deep underground at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in L'Aquila, Italy, to study the properties of ordinary neutrinos—and achieved underwhelming results. Still, ICARUS succeeded in another way: It proved that a new kind of detector called the liquid argon time projection chamber—the brainchild of Italian Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia—could capture the rare interactions of neutrinos with atomic nuclei with unprecedented precision. It worked so well that in 2012, U.S. physicists chose the relatively risky technology for their ultimate neutrino experiment, to be built next decade. In the meantime, ICARUS is going back to work on hunting for sterile neutrinos. Whereas ordinary neutrinos interact—just barely—with other matter, sterile neutrinos would interact with nothing except other neutrinos and can be detected only indirectly. Since the late 1990s, experiments have hinted at their existence, although the case is hardly convincing. In its new 5-year mission, ICARUS aims to settle the matter.

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