Magazine article Science News

Mishap Halts Work at Japanese Neutrino Lab

Magazine article Science News

Mishap Halts Work at Japanese Neutrino Lab

Article excerpt

The Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector has been indefinitely dry-docked after a major accident on Nov. 12 destroyed much of its costly hardware. The crippled facility, part of the Kamioka Observatory, lies about 180 miles northwest of Tokyo and more than half a miles underground.

The catastrophe struck as scientists refilled the detector's 10-story chamber with water following maintenance work. Nearly 8,000 of the 11,200 photomultiplier tubes that line the inside of the domed steel vault suddenly imploded. The tubes, which each enclose a vacuum, measure the direction and intensity of light that neutrinos release as they move through the water-filled chamber.

The initial implosion of a single 20-inch-diameter tube may have set off a chain reaction, says Henry W. Sobel of the University of California, Irvine, a representative of Super-Kamiokande. At about $3,000 per tube, the cost of replacement could approach $30 million.

"We will rebuild the detector," declared Yoji Totsuka, director of the Kamioka Observatory, in a statement published shortly after the accident. The observatory is operated by the University of Tokyo's Institute for Cosmic Ray Research and an international consortium of over 20 organizations.

The detector is most famous for startling results garnered 3 years ago suggesting that neutrinos have mass (SN: 6/13/98, p. 374). Approximately 2 more years' of data are needed from the detector to confirm the finding, which counters the long-held belief that neutrinos are massless. For the ongoing experiment, researchers direct a beam of neutrinos to the Super-Kamiokande detector from a physics facility about 150 miles away. …

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