Being at the dentist this morning reminded me of this new research.
Trillions and trillions of neutrinos fly through your body every second. You don’t notice this, as these particles don’t interact with anything inside you – they just fly on through you, through the Earth, out the other side and back into space. However, new research shows that these mysterious particles may be responsible for producing large amounts of fluorine present in the Universe. In one way or another, stars created almost all the chemical elements. Although fluorine sits between oxygen and neon on the periodic table it is much rarer than either – oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe, and neon ranks fifth or sixth. In contrast, fluorine doesn’t even make the top 20.
So two astronomers went looking for it. Using the 2.1-meter telescope atop Kitt Peak in Arizona, they searched 79 stars for a nasty gas named hydrogen fluoride (HF). They found it in 51 of their targets, by far the largest number of normal stars in which fluorine has been seen. As they report in the September issue of The Astronomical Journal, the fluorine abundance they measure is so high that neutrinos must have created much of it during supernova explosions. When a massive star explodes, it unleashes 1058 neutrinos that are so energetic a few knock a proton or neutron off some of the star’s many neon nuclei, producing fluorine. Other processes also create fluorine, but not enough to explain quite so much.
If this research is confirmed with a follow up study, you can thank particles that normally don’t do anything for the cavities you never got.