Where Science and Faith Converge

Have the Real God Particles Been Found? Part 4 (of 4)

By Hugh Ross - February 14, 2011

The connection between sterile neutrinos and another possible “God particle,” the axion

In part 1 of this article series I described why the Higgs boson is called the “God particle,” and why the sterile neutrino appears much more deserving of the title. In part 2, I reviewed astronomers’ efforts over the past twenty years to discover sterile neutrinos and why these searches, to everyone’s surprise, came up empty. I also clarified how these failures, nevertheless, infused new hope in astronomers that the discovery of sterile neutrinos was at hand. Part 3 explained how that new hope was fulfilled to a substantial degree. This final article in the series discusses the connection between sterile neutrinos and another possible “God particle,” the axion. I will describe where astronomers can quickly collect additional confirming evidence for both sterile neutrinos and axions, and conclude with a summary of some of the faith-strengthening theological advances we can expect from these discoveries, both current and emerging.

In many respects, we humans are the dominant species on Earth. There are nearly seven billion of us and each of us weighs an average of over fifty kilograms (110 pounds) each. However, compared to ants our total biomass is less than a tenth. Compared to prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) our total biomass is less than a hundredth of a percent. As it is with Earth’s life, so it is with the universe’s particles. It is the lightest known particles, axions and neutrinos—not protons, neutrons, and electrons—that make up most of the universe’s mass. As I will describe shortly, axions and neutrinos share another thing in common with prokaryotes: they play especially crucial roles in making possible the existence of humans and civilization.

In part 3 of this series, I described the work of astronomer Dmitry Prokhorov and physicist Joseph Silk; they demonstrate how astronomers were looking in the wrong place in their quest to discover sterile neutrinos.1 They then point out that the discovery of sterile neutrinos may have already been made serendipitously in the detection of excess radiation in a certain iron spectral line seen at a particular x-ray wavelength emanating from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Additionally, Prokhorov and Silk point out how certain observations of dwarf galaxies provide confirming evidence of sterile neutrinos’ existence. They also mention how some straightforward follow-up observations of the iron x-ray spectral line emanating from the galactic center would either prove or disprove their identification of the excess radiation as evidence for sterile neutrinos.

There are other ways Prokhorov and Silk’s identification could be confirmed. If the measured excess indeed results from inflatons decaying into sterile neutrinos, as they claim, then discovering the inflatons would be a huge boost to their assertion. As I mentioned in part 3, the axion is the leading inflaton particle candidate.

The Axion Connection

Obviously, Silk and Prokhorov’s conclusion would be substantially strengthened if scientists could prove that axions make up the bulk, or at least a large fraction, of the universe’s exotic matter. However, until very recently all efforts to detect axions had failed. This failure was not at all surprising to physicists and astronomers given that the best theoretical work on axions had proven that the mass of an axion could not be greater than several millielectronvolts (meV).

White Dwarf Star

Figure 1: A Typical White Dwarf Star Compared to the Sun
A white dwarf is a burnt out star. When a star exhausts its nuclear fuel, it suffers severe gravitational collapse. A typical white dwarf possesses about a third to two-thirds the mass of the Sun but is not much bigger than the size of Earth. Though burnt out, a white dwarf takes many billions of years to cool down. White dwarfs today manifest surface temperatures about four to seven times hotter than the Sun’s.
Image credit for the Sun image: STEREO Project, NASA

In March 2010, two of those Spanish astronomers collaborated with two Argentinean astronomers to add a second piece of evidence for the existence of axions.3 This team explained how the slow cooling process of white dwarf stars translates into an increase of certain variable white dwarfs’ pulsation periods. Since the existence of axions would increase the rate at which white dwarfs cool, astronomers can use measurements of the pulsation periods’ rate of change to prove or disprove the existence of axions. In their paper the team presented values for the rate of change in the pulsation period for the white dwarf G117-B15A. They demonstrated that these values are compatible with the existence of axions at the mass level suggested by the white dwarf luminosity function established in the June 2009 paper.

Further proof of the existence of axions, as the Spanish and Argentinean astronomers explain, is now straightforward. Measuring the pulsation period drifts of not just one but dozens, and hopefully hundreds, of variable white dwarfs would seal the case for the existence of axions. But it could do much more than that. It could also establish the abundance of axions in the universe, the mass of the axion particle, shed light on the abundance level and properties of sterile neutrinos, and yield insight on the constituent components of the universe’s exotic matter.

Many More Potential Confirmations

There are other ways astronomers and physicists could detect sterile neutrinos and potentially determine some of their physical properties. For example, a significant abundance of sterile neutrinos would distort both the temperature and polarization maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR, radiation left over from the cosmic creation event).4 While the WMAP satellite lacked the sensitivity to detect the sterile neutrino signal, the Planck satellite currently collecting data on the CMBR may have a good chance.5

Other currently feasible measurements and expressed hopes are the use of galaxy cluster maps, supernova observations, galaxy redshift surveys, substructure gravitational lensing in galaxy clusters, pulsar velocities, and measurements of the primordial abundances of deuterium, helium, and lithium to determine or at least constrain the properties of sterile neutrinos.6 Very recently, several physics research teams have proposed five different laboratory experiments that, for relatively modest outlays of money and time, could possibly detect and measure sterile neutrinos.7 The now operational CERN Large Hadron Collider can also make a significant contribution.8 What is reasonably certain is that someone or some team involved in all this research on sterile neutrinos will win the Nobel Prize.

Saving Time and Money

Say what you will about former president Bill Clinton, he was a masterful election campaigner. In his first run for the presidency all his campaign offices were plastered with memos to his staff and volunteers. The memo message: It’s the economy, stupid.

For scientists today the same message applies. What is the most economic way to gain the research results we all want?

Especially encouraging to the scientific community and to taxpayers is that the efforts to discover and determine the characteristics of sterile neutrinos and axions need not cost billions of dollars and millions of man-hours. While accelerators like CERN’s multi-billion-dollar Large Hadron Collider will certainly make their unique contributions to our understanding of these particles, relatively cheap astronomical observations involving only dozens of scientist man-hours are now known to be adequate not only to discover these particles but also to determine several of their properties. Economic astronomical pathways even exist for discovering and investigating Higgs bosons as was demonstrated by a recent paper published by two Romanian astrophysicists.9

The Theological Prize

From a theological perspective, the bigger trophy will be determining the degree to which the characteristics (especially the mass, average momentum, abundance, and location) of sterile neutrinos must be fine-tuned to explain why life, especially human life, is possible in the universe. Just to name a few examples, if it were not for the extraordinary, that is, supernatural fine-tuning of the characteristics, abundance, and locations of sterile neutrinos:

  • star formation would begin at the wrong time and at the wrong level;
  • the universe would possess the wrong abundance of baryons;
  • supernovae would scatter the wrong abundance of heavy elements into the interstellar and intergalactic media;
  • exotic dark matter halos would have the wrong shape and uniformity; and
  • the universe would manifest the wrong number of dwarf and sub-dwarf galaxies for physical intelligent life to be possible at any time or place in the cosmos.

Sterile neutrinos would bolster the biblically predicted hot big bang creation model10 by resolving eight anomalies in the standard cosmology and particle physics creation model simultaneously. Even more than that, they would also significantly augment the evidence for the supernatural, super-intelligent design of the universe to make possible the existence of physical life, especially human beings and their global, high-technology civilization.

Axions, as well, contribute to the evidence for the design of the universe for humanity’s specific benefit. Like sterile neutrinos, the characteristic features, abundance, and geographical placement of axions must be fine-tuned. Thanks to the recent observational and theoretical discoveries concerning sterile neutrinos and axions, scientists now possess much more complete and much better integrated models of cosmic and particle creation. Such completeness and integration adds yet more proof for the biblical creation model and the attributes of the biblical Creator.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
  1. Dmitry Prokhorov and Joseph Silk, “Can the Excess in the Fe XXVI Lyγ Line from the Galactic Center Provide Evidence for 17 keV Sterile Neutrinos?” Astrophysical Journal Letters 725 (December 20, 2010): L131–L134.
  2. Jordi Isern et al., “Axions and the White Dwarf Luminosity Function,” Journal of Physics: Conference Series 172 (June 2009): 012005.
  3. Jordi Isern et al., “Axions and the Pulsation Periods of Variable White Dwarfs Revisited,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 512 (April 9, 2010): A86.
  4. Alessandro Melchiorri et al., “New Constraints on Neutrino Masses from Cosmology,” New Astronomy Reviews 50 (December 2006): 1020–24.
  5. L. A. Popa and A. Vasile, “Sterile Neutrino As Dark Matter Candidate from CMB Alone,” (January 2007): arXiv:astro-ph/0701331.
  6. Martin Feix et al., “Substructure Lensing in Galaxy Clusters as a Constraint on Low-Mass Sterile Neutrinos in Tensor-Vector-Scalar Theory: The Straight Arc of Abell 2390,” Physical Review D 82 (December 2010): 124003; Leonard S. Kisslinger and Sandip Pakvasa, “Active and Sterile Neutrino Emission and SN1987A Pulsar Velocity,” (June 2009): 2009arXiv0906.4117K; Uroš Seljak, Anže Slosar, and Patrick McDonald, “Cosmological Parameters from Combining the Lyman-α Forest with CMB, Galaxy Clustering, and SN Constraints,” Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics 10 (October 2006): 014; F. B. Abdalla and S. Rawlings, “Determining Neutrino Properties Using Future Galaxy Redshift Surveys,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 381 (November 2007): 1318–28; Christel J. Smith et al., “Light Element Signatures of Sterile Neutrinos and Cosmological Lepton Numbers,” Physical Review D 74 (October 2006): 085008.
  7. Anna Sejersen Riis and Steen Hannestad, “Detecting Sterile Neutrinos with KATRIN Like Experiments,” (August 9, 2010): arXiv:1009.1495v1; Davide Meloni, Jian Tang, and Walter Winter, “Sterile Neutrinos Beyond LSND at the Neutrino Factory,” Physical Review D 82 (November 2010): 093008; Ian M. Shoemaker, Kalliopi Petraki, and Alexander Kusenko, “Collider Signatures of Sterile Neutrinos in Models with a Gauge-Singlet Higgs,” Journal of High Energy Physics 2010 (September 2010): 060; S. N. Gninenko and D. S. Gorbunov, “MiniBooNE Anomaly, the Decay Ds+ →µ+vµ and Heavy Sterile Neutrino,” Physical Review D 81 (April 2010): 075013; Mario A. Acero and Julien Lesgourgues, “Cosmological Constraints on a Light Nonthermal Sterile Neutrino,” Physical Review D 79 (February 2009): 045026; C. Grieb, J. M. Link, and R. S. Raghavan, “Probing Active to Sterile Neutrino Oscillations in the LENS Detector,” Physical Review D 75 (May 2007): 093006; Fedor Bezrukov and Mikhail Shaposhnikov, “Searching for Dark Matter Sterile Neutrinos in the Laboratory,” Physical Review D 75 (March 2007): 053005; Sandhya Choubey, N. P. Harries, and G. G. Ross, “Turbulent Supernova Shock Waves and the Sterile Neutrino Signature in Megaton Water Detectors,” Physical Review D 76 (October 2007): 073013; D. C. Latimer, J. Escamilla, and D. J. Ernst, “Measuring the Mass of a Sterile Neutrino with a Very Short Baseline Reactor Experiment,” Physical Review C 75 (April 2007): 042501.
  8. B. Baibussinov et al., “A New Search for Anomalous Neutrino Oscillations at the CERN-PS,” (September 8, 2009): arXiv:0909.0355v3 [hep-ex]; Abhishek Kumar, David Tucker-Smith, and Neal Weiner, “Neutrino Mass, sNeutrino Dark Matter and Signals of Lepton Flavor Violation in the MRSSM,” Journal of High Energy Physics 2010 (September 2010): id. #111; Alexander Kusenko, “Sterile Neutrinos, Dark Matter, and Pulsar Velocities in Models with a Higgs Singlet,” Physical Review Letters 97 (December 2006): 241301.
  9. L. A. Popa and A. Caramete, “Cosmological Constraints on the Higgs Boson Mass,” Astrophysical Journal 723 (November 1, 2010): 803–11.
  10. Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004), 139–48.

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