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Astroparticle physics


Astroparticle physics includes a vast field of research with experiments conducted mostly without accelerators on cosmic radiation, neutrinos, gravitation and quantum mechanics.
Consequently, also the used experimental techniques are very heterogeneous, ranging from lasers to the use of low activity materials, from cryogenics to the particle detectors used in other lines of research.
The experiments may be of small size (“table-top”) or extend over areas of several km2, situated in space or under the sea, in underground laboratories or in the Antarctic ice.
The discovery of cosmic radiation dates back to 1912 and for many years, before the use of accelerators, allowed us to discover new hitherto unknown particles (just think of the “positron”, i.e. the anti-electron).
Although research in the astroparticle physics field has spanned more than a century, it is still a research sector full of new and exciting discoveries (just think of the recent observation of gravitational waves by the LIGO experiment), in which the National Institute for Nuclear Physics is engaged since decades. In particular, researchers of the Frascati National Laboratories are involved in neutrino studies and in space research.

For further information:    INFN official website.    INFN magazine, with a number of monographs on the subject.


At the Frascati Laboratories, NAUTILUS, a gravitational wave detector consisting of a 2.3 ton resonant bar at a temperature of only 0.13 degrees above absolute zero, has been in operation since 1995. The detector was designed to detect gravitational waves emitted by high-frequency sources (around 1 kHz), such as gravitational collapses with the formation of neutron stars or blacks holes.

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CUORE is a second-generation experiment for research in Double Beta Decay of 130Te without neutrino emission. The sensitivity is such as to allow probing of the mass region of the neutrino suggested for inverse hierarchy by the results of the most recent experiments on neutrino oscillations. It consists of bolometric TeO2 crystals for a total mass of 741 kg, kept at a temperature of approx. 10 mK. In 2016, completion of installation of the experimental apparatus and start of data acquisition are planned.

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JEM-EUSO is an international project aimed at the building of a long lasting space observatory dedicated to the study and detection of Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays (UHECR) and E > 100 EeV energy neutrinos. Thanks to the study of the nature and origin of UHECR basic fundamental physics and high energy astrophysics problems have been addressed.

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KM3net is an underwater neutrino detector being installed in the Mediterranean, dedicated to the study of neutrino oscillations and to the observation of neutrinos emitted by astrophysical sources. Neutrinos, in fact, due to the absence of electrical charge and their low probability of interaction with matter, are ideal to be used as a tool for this investigation.

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JUNO is an experiment dedicated to the measurement of the neutrino mass hierarchy, one of the main issues still open in particle physics. It is located in the Popular Republic of China, near Jiangmen town, 50 km away from two nuclear power plants, providing 26.6 GW starting from 2020.

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The Moonlight-2 collaboration aims to study fundamental gravitational physics by very accurately measuring the distance between the Earth and other celestial bodies (in particular the Moon and Mars) using the laser ranging technique. A micro-payload of reflectors to be deployed on the Moon and on Mars, subject of the NASA (Mars 2020) and ESA (ExoMars) strategic missions, has been developed (called INRRI).

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Neutrinos are fundamental particles with very small mass and no electric charge. In nature there are three types and as a consequence of quantum mechanics they can oscillate from one type to another. The OPERA experiment, situated at the Gran Sasso underground laboratories, has been designed to directly observe the oscillation of muon neutrinos from the CNGS beam produced at CERN into tau neutrinos.

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WIZARD is an experimental program dedicated to the study of Cosmic Rays in a wide energy range (from a few dozens of MeV to a few hundreds of GeV), with especial focus on possible Dark Matter marks and Antimatter components: positrons, antiprotons and the search for antinuclei.

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The CSES – LIMADOU project is a space mission meant to study the possible correlations between seismic events and the Van Allen belts’ perturbations in the magnetosphere.

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Latest modified: 6 May 2016