Solar neutron detector

neutron detector

A member of our astronomy group Galileo presented some photos he took at the Gornergrat in Switzerland. One of those photos showed a neutron detector. Immediately I was curious what the purpose of this detector and the corresponding research was.

Electrons, protons, and neutrons are the main sub atomic particles in an atom.

Neutrinos are created as a result of certain types of radioactive decay, or nuclear reactions such as those that take place in the Sun, in nuclear reactors, or when cosmic rays hit atoms. The neutron detector detects neutrinos (and not neutrons as I first assumed). A neutrino is a sub atomic particle with a small mass (similar to electrons) and no electrical charge. Since there is no electrical charge, neutrinos are not affected by the electrical or magnetic forces. It is shown by the Greek letter nu. Three types of neutrinos have been described as electron neutrino, muon neutrino and tau neutrino. It is hard to determine neutrinos directly as they don’t carry a charge, and don’t ionize the materials they are passing through. The present detectors can only detect the high energy neutrinos.

The neutron detector in Gornergrat has been installed in 1998 in collaboration with the Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory of the Nagoya University, Japan, and is the European cornerstone of a worldwide network of solar neutron detectors. There are also detectors in Armenia, Tibet, Hawaii, Bolivia, Japan and Mexico. Observations of solar neutrons can provide unique information on the acceleration of particles in association with solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

In contrast to charged particles emitted in association with solar flares and coronal mass ejections neutrinos are not affected by the magnetic field of the Sun, nor by the interplanetary magnetic field, nor by the geomagnetic field. Observations of solar neutrinos therefore offer a direct insight into the mechanisms of high energy processes at the Sun. The additional possibility to measure the energy spectrum of the neutrinos gives information about the timing and the duration of the high energy solar processes. This allows to get a better understanding of the acceleration mechanism of charged particles at the Sun. This information, along with measurements of solar gamma ray emission and charged particles, is the basis for building solar flare models.


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