Neutrinos, Your Cavity Fighting Companion

Having a hard time getting your kids to brush their teeth? They might be a bit more eager to brush if they knew they were brushing with star-dust. 

Trillions of neutrinos born at the center of the sun, forging much of the universe’s fluorine…the same element found in your toothpaste, burst out into the night sky and find their way to our planet. 

Neutrinos are constantly shooting through your body, but fear not. They don’t hurt you, because they almost never interact with matter.

Hitching a ride on neutrinos

Two astronomers Catherine Pilachowski, Indiana University in Bloomington and Cameron Pace, Southern Utah University in Cedar City went looking for neutrinos using a 2.1 meter telescope in Kitt Peak, Arizona. They searched 79 stars for a fatal gas called hydrogen fluoride (HF). This gas absorbs infrared radiation which leaves a mark on the star’s spectrum and is the source of fluoride.

Pilachowshi and Pace detected a surprisingly large amount of stars containing HF, 51 of their target stars. The two astronomers concluded that this high abundance must have been created from neutrinos during supernova explosions. Although, contributions from asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars were still considered significant to the abundance of fluoride.

Stars create most of the chemical elements found on the periodic table. Fluorine (F) with an atomicperiodic-table-42115_640 number nine, sits between oxygen and neon. Massive stars create huge amounts of oxygen and neon, but fluorine is rare. When a massive star explodes, it produces an extraordinary amount of neutrinos, ten to the 58th power. (That’s the number 1 followed by 58 zeros). They are so energized that it is possible to knock of a proton or neutron from the star’s neon nuclei, thus producing fluorine. This is the most likely result in order to produce such a high abundance of fluorine, according to the two researchers.

Henrik Jönsson of the Lund Observatory in Sweden recently extended his study to look at 100 stars with a larger Kitt Peak telescope in hopes to measure the temperatures of each star, along with the abundance of hydrogen fluoride.  Jönsson is looking at the possibility of the element being present in stars that do not explode, as some stars obtain hydrogen fluoride through nuclear reactions that don’t involve neutrinos. These bright asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars have been caught manufacturing fluorine, and upon their death, they throw their outer layer full of fluorine out into the galaxy.

So what could be more fun than brushing your teeth with a little star-dust?

Source: How neutrinos saved your teeth from cavities