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Fermilab Preparing For Historic Experiment With Neutrino Beam

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The Tevatron at Fermilab (2006 File Photo; Credit: CBS)

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BATAVIA, Ill. (CBS) — Fermilab scientists are breaking new ground, with a project that most of would admit is hard to get our arms around.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Berner reports, plans are afoot to shoot a beam of neutrinos 500 miles through the earth – thousands of feet underground – from Fermilab in Batavia to a detector site in Ash River, Minn., the Aurora Beacon-News explained.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Berner reports

Technicians in Minnesota recently began positioning the first block of the detector, the newspaper reported.

The project, called the NuMI Off-Axis Neutrino Appearance Experiment or NOvA, will be the largest, most advanced experiment involving neutrinos in North America, the Beacon-News reported.

So what is a neutrino, you ask?

A neutrino is a subatomic particle with no electric charge and almost no mass. Most neutrinos passing through the earth originate in the sun.

But neutrinos are also created when cosmic rays hit atoms in nuclear reactors, and of the radioactive decay of unstable atoms.

The Beacon-News points out that neutrinos interact so rarely with other forms of matter that they can pass through solid rock for hundreds of miles.

The NOvA experiment is set to begin next year.