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Jean Lachat / University of Chicago

Neutrinos are some of the most common particles in the universe, but they're also some of the most mysterious. They have (almost) no mass and no charge, and can pass through solid objects (and entire planets) like we pass through air. But scientists at Duke University have successfully detected these 'ghost particles' doing something no one has seen before: scattering off the nucleus of an atom.

Why it matters: Currently, scientists study neutrinos by measuring the energy produced when they interact with a proton or neutron — a very rare event. Now that scientists know they can detect neutrinos scattering off a nucleus, they might be able to use them to detect supernovas, or use a similar technique to detect dark matter scattering off of nuclei, reports Science News.

Physicists say understanding neutrinos is crucial to our understanding of the universe. They're produced by nuclear fusion and radioactive decay. Some scientists think neutrinos might be a part of why the universe is made up of matter and not antimatter.

Not quite a game changer: Forty years ago, researchers hypothesized that neutrinos would scatter a certain way if they interacted with a nucleus, according to the standard model of physics. In this experiment, the neutrino scattered exactly as predicted (and the standard model is safe... for now.)

Handheld physics lab: Not only are neutrinos really, really hard to observe, most of the equipment currently used to detect them is really, really big and expensive. For example, the proposed India-based Neutrino Observatory requires a 50,000 ton calorimeter. But the researchers in this experiment used a detector about the same size as a champagne bottle.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.

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