The NOvA experiment is a Long Baseline Neutrino experiment designed to shed light on the mysterious nature of neutrinos. How do neutrinos oscillate from one flavour to another? What is the ordering of their masses? Can they help us understand the matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe?
To help answer these questions, particle physicists smash a high energy proton beam into a fixed concrete target, creating a secondary high energy pion beam. Pions are unstable, meaning that they will decay into any lighter particles that the laws of physics allow. This generally means a muon and a muon-neutrino. Because the pion has much more mass than the muon, the muon and muon-neutrino are produced in the same direction as the pion beam. The muon is then stopped while the neutrino can travel unimpeded through 500 miles of the earth’s crust in less than 3 milliseconds!
The neutrinos are observed before and after their epic journey by two state-of-the-art detectors. The 300-ton Near Detector at Fermilab and the 14,000-ton Far Detector in northern Minnesota. Differences in the measurements at these two detectors allow us to study the bizarre phenomenon of neutrino oscillations.