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TV Program Description
Original PBS Broadcast Date: February 21, 2006


The Ghost Particle homepage

In this program, NOVA probes the secret ingredient of the cosmos: swarms of invisible particles that fill every cubic inch of space and just may explain how the universe was created. Trillions of ghostly neutrinos move through our bodies every second without us noticing a thing. Yet without them the sun wouldn't shine and the elements that make up our world wouldn't exist. This program explores the 70-year struggle so far to understand the most elusive of all elementary particles, the neutrino.

Narrated by British actor Juliet Stevenson, "The Ghost Particle" is the story of a discovery that altered scientists' understanding of what the universe is made of and how it was first formed. NOVA accompanies scientists into the laboratory, revealing astonishing footage of bizarre experiments. Computer animation brings to life the neutrino particle, which is at once invisible and yet utterly essential to all life.

The program first takes audiences back to 1930, when Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli wrote to his colleagues about the phenomenon of radioactive decay. The experts were puzzled by a missing bit of energy that could not be accounted for in their picture of how a radioactive atomic nucleus decays. Pauli suggested that an exquisitely tiny, previously unknown particle had to exist to account for the missing energy. The problem with this theory, however, was that there was no hard evidence of neutrinos' existence.

It seemed to be an impossible investigation. Neutrinos have no electric charge, making them invisible to ordinary detecting equipment. Truly poltergeists among particles, they can pass directly through thousands of miles of solid matter without slowing down. Yet every element vital to life, including carbon and oxygen, is made by a chain of nuclear reactions that would be impossible without neutrinos. They are an essential ingredient of the universe, and catching these neutrinos became the ultimate scientific quest (see Case of the Missing Particles).

NOVA sits down with Professor John Bahcall and Nobel Prize winner Ray Davis, two men determined to solve one of the biggest puzzles in particle physics. In the 1960s, they began their scientific adventure with a daring underground experiment that few believed could succeed. Vindication for both men is a long time in coming ... but come it does.

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The Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan is just one of several such experiments that have helped to solve the long-standing mystery surrounding the number of neutrinos streaming out from the sun.




The Ghost Particle
The Producer's Story

The Producer's Story
Seven rules for making good TV out of complex topics

Dancing With Neutrinos

Dancing With Neutrinos
The late astro-
physicist John Bahcall recalls his long-
awaited vindication.

Awesome Detectors

Awesome Detectors
When apprehending elusive neutrinos, bigger is definitely better.

Case of the Missing Particles

Case of the
Missing Particles

See the experiments that led to a surprising breakthrough in physics.



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