Header 1

Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Dirty DUNE Is a Billion-Buck Boondoggle

The New York Times recently had a long story with this misleading headline: "Why the Big Bang Produced Something Rather Than Nothing."  The headline is baloney, because the story suggests no answer to this long-standing scientific problem. Nowadays bunk  clickbait headlines are frequently found in science news media, even in top-tier sources that we expect to be following better journalistic practices.

The story mentions some research on neutrinos, and tries to make it sound like maybe the research has some relevance to the long standing problem called the matter/antimatter asymmetry problem. Scientists believe that when two very high-energy photons collide, they produce equal amounts of matter and antimatter, and that when matter collides with antimatter, it is converted into high-energy photons. Such a belief is based on what scientists have observed in particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider, where particles are accelerated to near the speed of light before they collide with each other. But such conclusions about matter, antimatter and photons lead to a great mystery as to why there is any matter at all in the universe.

Let us imagine the early minutes of the Big Bang about 13 billion years ago, when the density of the universe was incredibly great. At that time the universe should have consisted of energy, matter and antimatter. The energy should have been in the form of very high energy photons that were frequently colliding with each other. All such collisions should have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter. For example, a collision of high energy particles with sufficient energy creates a matter proton and an antimatter particle called an antiproton. So the amount of antimatter shortly after the Big Bang should have been exactly the same as the amount of matter. As a CERN page on this topic says, "The Big Bang should have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter in the early universe." But whenever a matter particle touched an antimatter particle, both would have been converted into photons. The eventual result should have been a universe consisting either of nothing but photons, or some matter but an equal amount of antimatter. But only trace amounts of antimatter are observed in the universe. A universe with equal amounts of matter and antimatter would have been uninhabitable, because of the vast amount of lethal energy released when even a tiny bit of matter comes in contact with a tiny bit of antimatter.

Nothing in the New York Times story mentions anything like a possible answer to this matter/antimatter asymmetry problem. There is merely a mention of some T2K experiment that suggests only very weakly that maybe there's a tiny bit of asymmetry involving the all-but-massless "ghost particles" called neutrinos. This isn't anything like a resolution of the matter/antimatter asymmetry problem.   The anomaly detected by the T2K experiment is only a three-sigma observation, which could easily be the result of mere chance.  A three-sigma event occurs by chance about 1 in 625 times. The rule-of-thumb in physics is that you don't call something a discovery unless it is a five-sigma event, which occurs by chance only about 1 in 3.5 million times. A five-sigma result is roughly 5000 times harder-to-get than a three sigma result.

Neutrinos are "bit players" in the physical drama of the universe, and make up very much less of the universe's mass than protons. That means it is extremely unlikely that the matter/antimatter asymmetry problem will be solved by studying neutrinos. 

But now scientists are proposing that we spend more than 1 billion dollars on a project called the DUNE project, to study asymmetry or oscillation issues in neutrinos. DUNE stands for Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. The cost of this project (which will be operational in 2027) will be between 1.2 billion dollars and 1.8 billion dollars, according to this document.  

They didn't get a convincing result from the massively expensive T2K experiment, so now our scientists want to spend more than a billion dollars on a whole other neutrino experiment.  The chance that anything terribly important will come from such an effort is very low. On its "Frequently Asked Questions" page, the web site of the DUNE project tries to answer the question, "Why is DUNE scientifically important?" It fails to answer that question in any remotely persuasive way.  It says, "DUNE aims to find out, for example, whether neutrinos are the key to solving the mystery of how the universe came to consist of matter rather than antimatter," but it gives no rationale for thinking that such a thing is true, and no explanation of how it might be discovered that such a thing is true.  There's a link to a video which also fails to explain any rationale for thinking that neutrinos could possibly be the explanation for the matter/antimatter asymmetry problem. 

Trying to play up the importance of neutrinos (which make up a vastly smaller fraction of the universe's mass than protons), the video makes the claim (at the 54 second mark) that neutrinos are "the most abundant matter particles in the universe."  Scientists actually believe that the amount of matter in protons is many times greater than the amount of matter in neutrinos, and that the most abundant matter substance in the universe is some other undiscovered type of matter called dark matter, which is believed to exist in vastly greater mass amounts than either protons or neutrinos. At an expert answers site, we read the following:

"The problem with neutrinos is that they are very light. There is no conceivable mechanism that would produce enough of them to make up a significant percentage of the total mass of the universe."

The DUNE project will probably end up being like the LIGO project, another billion-dollar boondoggle which has produced almost no astronomical results of any importance.  It has been claimed that by now the LIGO project has detected something like 50 examples of gravitational waves.   Some are not even sure that LIGO has actually detected gravitational waves.  Last year a physicist stated the following:

"The signals that LIGO and Virgo see are well explained by gravitational wave events. But we cannot be sure that these are actually signals coming from outer space and not some unknown terrestrial effect."

 Even if the LIGO detections are real gravitional waves from distant sources, they are of no great importance. None of these observations has done anything to change our understanding of the universe, or clarify any of the central problems of cosmology or astronomy.  The gravitational waves come only from rare freak events lasting only for the shortest times, events such as colliding black holes and colliding neutron stars. So LIGO has been a kind of sideshow of no great importance.  We might compare it to a billion-dollar project searching the world trying to track down all the cases of head-on collisions of tractor trailers, although such a project would probably be more useful than anything we learned from LIGO. 

LIGO cost American taxpayers more than a billion dollars. There was also a quite substantial environmental cost for constructing something like the two LIGO observatories, each an L-shaped unit stretching for 4000 meters.  All such massive construction projects contribute to global warming. Our scientists frequently lecture us about the importance of reducing global warming emissions. But when it comes to constructing gigantic boondoggle projects that contribute substantially to global warming, and produce only meager results,  our scientists raise no objections.

Like LIGO, the DUNE project will be very expensive in terms of its global warming cost. One of its detectors will be constructed more than a kilometer underground. That kind of deep digging has a high cost in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, and tends to create pollution in a variety of ways.  But you would never know that from a very misleading document that was filed, one claiming that this massive construction project will have "no significant impact," by which it means environmental impact.

Entitled "Finding of No Significant Impact and Floodplain Statement of Findings," the document tells us the following:

"Construction of the underground detector—necessary to eliminate cosmic radiation that could interfere with the detector—would require excavation and transportation of a large volume of rock. The rock would be transferred to either the Gilt Edge Superfund site, or to the Open Cut in Lead, a former surface mining pit that was part of the former Homestake Mine. Truck, conveyor and/or a rail system would be used. The Gilt Edge Superfund site is a highly disturbed former gold mine in Deadwood....Up to 950,000 cubic yards (yd3) of soils would be removed and re-used or stored on site. Up to 45,000 yd3 of rock would be excavated, but important geological resources would not be affected."

The document tells us that up to a million cubic yards of soil and rock would be excavated by the DUNE project, and much of it  transported and dumped at some pit or mine. This project has very obviously a very large environmental cost, including a very large global warming footprint. But contrary to all the facts it is stating, the document claims there will be "no significant impact" on the environment. It states that the DUNE construction project "
would not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment."  You might as well claim that leveling fifty city blocks in Manhattan would have no significant effect on the environment. 

The government web page below reminds us of one of the countless reasons why massive hard-rock removal projects and massive soil removal projects can have very big environmental impacts.  At the end of the yellow line shown below is where DUNE will be massively involved. 

rock mining problem

The DUNE project is an environmentally reckless boondoggle "white elephant" project. Neutrinos are mere bit players in the physical makeup of the universe. There is no reason to think that the DUNE neutrino project will do anything to solve the great mystery of why the Big Bang did not yield a universe with equal amounts of matter protons and antimatter antiprotons, or nothing but photons arising from the combination of such antimatter and matter. And in the unlikely event that the scientists who work on the DUNE project ever happen to report some five-sigma event relating to neutrinos, we should be suspicious about  their reports.  Once a project has been born with the very misleading claim that digging a million cubic yards of soil and rock will have no significant environmental impact, then we should be suspicious about the accuracy of all further statements related to such a project. 

Let us imagine the best result that might happen from the DUNE project. There might be discovered some reason why the Big Bang should have produced more neutrinos (made of matter) than anti-neutrinos (made of antimatter). But it would be worth very little to know such a thing. What we are interested in knowing is not why the Big Bang might have produced some universe with only ghostly neutrinos as matter, but why the Big Bang left us with so many protons that are vastly more massive than neutrinos. The precise name for this problem is the baryon asymmetry problem.  It is the problem of why the observed number of baryons (protons and neutrons) in the universe is more than trillions of times greater than the number of antibaryons (antiprotons and antineutrons), contrary to what the Big Bang theory predicts. There is no hope that the baryon asymmetry problem can be solved by doing experiments with neutrinos, because neutrinos are not baryons.  There is no point at all in spending a billion dollars trying to establish why there might exist a universe with only neutrinos, because we don't live in such a universe.  There is a point in trying to figure out why we live in a universe with so many baryons.  But the DUNE project would do nothing to solve that problem. 

No comments:

Post a Comment