NUMI Off-Axis ve Appearance: What is NOvA?
NOvA Far Detector Site Construction, April 2011
Previous experiments (MINOS, in particular) have demonstrated that neutrinos oscillate, that is change from one type to another. Scientists have seen the oscillation of muon neutrinos (like those produced in the NuMI Beam at FermiLab) into tau neutrinos. One of NOvA's research goals is to investigate whether or not muon neutrinos oscillate into electron neutrinos, symbolized ve, by whether or not they appear in the detector. The detector is off-axis, which means it is to the side of the beam's centerline.
Because neutrinos oscillate they must have mass, but scientists don't know how much they weigh, which is heaviest, or by what process neutrinos get their mass. Physicists have constructed many possible theories describing neutrino properties. If experimentalists can discover the actual weight order of the neutrinos it would eliminate theories that require a different weight order. This would help scientists to understand the rather bizarre characteristics of the neutrino, including whether or not neutrinos are their own antiparticles.
Physicists hope to determine the weight order of the neutrinos by comparing the oscillations of neutrinos to the oscillation of anti-neutrinos created by the NuMI beam.The NOvA collaboration may discover that muon neutrinos and muon anti-neutrinos oscillate at different rates, indicating the matter and anti-matter behave differently. This could be useful in explaining why the universe has more matter than anti-matter.