Indian Neutrino Observatory Greenlit Despite Protests

Published: January 12, 2020

Despite opposition by locals, the central government has greenlit the Indian Neutrino Observatory to be built in Theni in the south of Tamil Nadu.

What is the India-based Neutrino Observatory Project?

The India-based Neutrino Observatory Project is a multi-institutional project to build a state of the art underground observatory with a rock cover of 1200 m approx. It will be used for non-accelerator based high energy and nuclear physics research in India, although the initial goal is just to study neutrinos. The project is jointly funded by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

What are Neutrinos?

First proposed by the Swiss scientist Wolfgang Pauli in 1930, neutrinos are the second most commonly occurring particles in the universe, the first being photons. In fact, they are so abundant, that every second a 100-trillion of them are passing right through us. Neutrinos are of three different types and have a tiny mass. However, the ordering of those masses is still unknown. The Indian Neutrino Observatory aims to answer just that.

Why is the scientific community interested?

Neutrinos are considered the key to answering fundamental questions about the origin of the universe. There are other avenues to explore as well. Neutrinos are the only particles that can be used to explore the core of the Earth. This will give scientists valuable insights as to the complete structure of the planet in a process called tomography.

Why is the laboratory planned underground?

Neutrinos have extremely weak interaction with matter. Thus, they are extremely difficult to detect in laboratories. The background cosmic rays, on the other hand, interact much more readily with the neutrino particles and throw the data around. In order to protect the results from cosmic interference, the laboratory must be underground.

Way Forward

Protecting the environment and livelihoods of the people is of course very important. But neither should stand in the way of scientific development. India, like most other countries, must aim to strike the right balance between both.

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