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Every single second of every single day, you are being bombarded by trillions upon trillions of subatomic particles, showering down from the depths of space. They blow through you with the strength of a cosmic hurricane, blasting in at nearly the speed of light. They're coming from all over the sky, at all times of the day and night. They penetrate the Earth's magnetic field and our protective atmosphere like so much butter.
And yet, the hair on the top of your head isn't even ruffled.
What's going on?
Sometimes elements feel a little … unstable. And if they're left alone for too long, they fall apart and transform themselves into something else, something a little bit lighter on the periodic table. In addition, a little electron would pop out. But in the 1920s, careful and detailed observations of those decays found tiny, niggling discrepancies. The total energy at the start of the process was a tiny bit greater than the energy coming out. The math didn't add up. Odd.
Physicists - Particle - Cloth - Energy - Something
So, a few physicists concocted a brand-new particle out of whole cloth. Something to carry away the missing energy. Something small, something light, something without charge. Something that could slip through their detectors unnoticed.
A little, neutral one. A neutrino.
Couple - Decades - Existence - Family - Particles
It took another couple decades to confirm their existence — that's how slippery and wily and sneaky they are. But in 1956, neutrinos joined the growing family of known, measured, confirmed particles.
And then things got weird.
Trouble - Discovery - Muon - Time - Neutrino
The trouble started brewing with the discovery of the muon, which coincidentally occurred about the same time that the neutrino idea was beginning to gain ground: the 1930s. The muon is almost exactly like an electron. Same charge. Same spin. But it's different in one crucial way: It's heavier, over 200 times more massive than its sibling, the electron.
Muons participate in...
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