The OPERA experiment, located at the Gran Sasso Laboratory of the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), was designed to conclusively prove that muon-neutrinos can oscillate into tau-neutrinos by studying beams of muons sent from CERN 730 km away.

In a paper published on 22 May, describing the very final results of the experiment on neutrino oscillations, the OPERA collaboration has reported the observation of a total of 10 candidate events for a muon- to tau-neutrino conversion. This result demonstrates unambiguously that muons morph into tau neutrinos on their way from CERN to Gran Sasso.

The OPERA collaboration observed the first tau-neutrino event (evidence of muon-neutrino oscillation) in 2010, followed by four additional events reported between 2012 and 2015. A new analysis strategy applied to the full data sample collected between 2008 and 2012 led to the new total of 10 candidate events, with an extremely high level of significance. “We also report the first direct observation of the tau-neutrino lepton number, the parameter that discriminates neutrinos from antineutrinos,” says Giovanni de Lellis, OPERA spokesperson. “It is extremely gratifying to see today that our legacy results largely exceed the level of confidence we had envisaged in the experiment proposal.”

Beyond its contribution to neutrino physics, OPERA pioneered the use of large-scale emulsion films with fully automated and high-speed readout technologies with submicrometre accuracy. These technologies are now used in a wide range of other scientific areas, from dark-matter searches to investigations of volcanoes, and from the optimisation of hadron therapy for cancer treatment to the exploration of secret chambers in the Great Pyramid. The OPERA collaboration has also made its data public through the CERN open data portal, allowing researchers outside the collaboration to conduct novel research and offering tools such as a visualiser to help adapt the datasets for educational use.

Further reading

OPERA Collaboration 2018 Phys. Rev. Lett. 120 211801.