Japan’s Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector is a very well-kept secret, due to the fact it is located about 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) underneath Mount Ikeno. It is an impressive structure that is approximately as large as a tall building, filled with a massive amount of water that allows for the detection of those elusive neutrinos. This all serves as a way for scientists to determine when a star might be dying, as explained by the scientists behind the “Super-K” detector in a recent interview.
Speaking to Business Insider, Imperial College London scientist Dr. Yoshi Uchida explained that neutrinos, while extremely hard to catch, are very important finds because dying stars fire off these sub-atomic particles. As such, the Super-Kamiokande detector is an “early warning” system of sorts, as it could notify scientists if a star is on the verge of collapsing.
“If there’s a supernova, a star that collapses into itself and turns into a black hole. If that happens in our galaxy, something like Super-K is one of the very few objects that can see the neutrinos from it.”
Uchida also told Business Insider another reason why it’s so important to use Super-K for the detection of neutrinos — the long time in between supernova explosions that could be recognized by the giant chamber. Based on his team’s calculations, such events are picked up approximately once every 30 years, which could mean a decades-long wait if scientists miss out on these explosions.
Discussing the proverbial methods behind the madness of Super-K, Business Insider wrote that the detector is approximately as large as a 15-story building, with a giant tank that holds 50,000 tons of “ultra-pure” water. According to Uchida, this was done because neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light when they make their way through the water, doing so in a way similar to the “Concord [producing] sonic booms.” Super-K also features 11,000 golden-colored bulbs, which are actually light detectors that are able to spot shockwaves of light that are created through the aforementioned process.
The purity of the water held within Super-Kamiokande is essential to the detector’s success, Business Insider added, as the water is constantly filtered, then re-purified with UV light to ensure that not even the tiniest bacteria could contaminate it. Uchida explained that such ultra-pure water combines the features of “an acid and an alkaline.”
“If you went for a soak in this ultra-pure Super-K water you would get quite a bit of exfoliation,” said Uchida’s fellow Imperial College researcher, Dr. Morgan Wascko.
Aside from spotting neutrinos and providing a heads-up on dying stars, Super-Kamiokande also has the potential to help scientists learn more about the birth of the universe and answer pressing questions related to the Big Bang, such as the origins of matter and antimatter and why the former is now far more prevalent than the latter, as suggested by Wascko.
“Our big bang models predict that matter and anti-matter should have been created in equal parts, but now [most of] the anti-matter has disappeared through one way or another,” he said.
Although Super-Kamiokande is already a formidable structure as it is, Wascko said that it might be superseded by an even larger neutrino detector, fittingly called “Hyper-Kamiokande.” He said that the proposed detector, which is expected to be 20 times larger than Super-K, has yet to be approved, but if it does, it should be up and running by 2026 or thereabouts.