MadSci Network: Physics

Re: Can neutrinos be used to x-ray the Earth?

Date: Wed Dec 29 10:52:59 2004
Posted By: Benn Tannenbaum, Senior Research Analyst
Area of science: Physics
ID: 1104335851.Ph

Dear Romel,

This is an excellent and timely question. You ask if neutrinos can be used
to "x-ray" the earth, and if the information we would gain from this would
be useful in predicting earthquakes. 

The answer, I'm afraid, is no. The very property that makes neutrinos so
interesting-- their ability to pass through kilometers of solid rock
without interacting-- makes them very hard to measure. The best-known
neutrono detector, Super
Kamiokanda in Japan, weighs 50,000 tons and only measures a few hundred
neutrinos per year. Their most
recent paper uses 1489 events that were collected over several years.
This is just too small a sample to provide any information about the
interior of the earth. It would take hundreds of such neutrino detectors
decades to collect enough information to be useful.

Scientists do have other ways of locating and observing geological plates
and stresses. On land, small underground explosions are set off, and, by
watching the patterns of shock waves in the surrounding ground, they can
determine what is happening beneath them. As you might imagine, this
technique doesn't work quite as well under water-- mainly due to the
difficulty of accessing the seabed.

By the way-- if you can invent a neutrino detector that would collect
enough data to accomplish what you propose, you will be famous and will
earn a Nobel Prize. There are millions of neutrinos passing through the
Earth every second. We just can't see them. Find a way to do that, and the
scientific world will beat a path to your door!

Hope this helps...

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