Scientists find ‘ghost particles’ coming from inside the Earth

Mysterious 'geoneutrinos' picked up in the world's biggest underground laboratory

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 23 January 2020 11:15
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Scientists find 'ghost particles' coming from inside Earth

Scientists have found new "ghost particles" coming from inside the Earth.

The mysterious particles, known as geoneutrinos, rarely interact with matter and so can be almost impossible to detect.

But scientists working in the world's biggest underground laboratory have found 53 new events, nearly twice as many as before.

They were detected using the Borexino detector, which is buried 1,400 meters underground takes incredibly sensitive measurements of usually undetectable phenomena.

Scientists hope that the new discoveries could shed more light on the processes that are happening right beneath our feet but remain largely mysterious.

Geoneutrinos are produced during radioactive decay inside the Earth. They mean that our planet is ablaze with elusive particles that stream up to its surface – but are entirely invisible to our eyes.

The Borexino detector located at the underground Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso in Italy aims to see that invisible flow of particles. Scientists have been watching for neutrinos since 2007, and have been collecting informaiton over that time.

By last year, the researchers had spotted the new stream of ghost particles as well as making their measurements more certain.

"Geoneutrinos are the only direct traces of the radioactive decays that occur inside the Earth, and which produce an as yet unknown portion of the energy driving all the dynamics of our planet," said Livia Ludhova, one of the two current scientific coordinators of Borexino, in a statement.

The new discoveries could help shed light on those mysterious processes, which help create the unexplained heat that comes from the centre of the Earth. The world beneath our feet gives rise to a host of strange phenomena – such as the Earth's spectacular volcanos and magnetic field – which are not like any other seen in the solar system.

The new data helps refine scientists' understanding of how those processes happen. It shows that it is very likely that radioactive processes inside the Earth are generating more than half of its heat, with the rest coming from the original formation of the planet, meaning that those radioactive processes are responsible for those volcanos and earthquakes that change life on the surface.

Scientists hope they can learn yet more about those mysterious processes, by measuring the ghost particles with more precision. In China, an experiment called Juno is currently being built that will be 70 times bigger than Borexino and could give vastly more insight.

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