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.
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