Olbers Paradox Regarding Neutrinos

  • A substantial portion of modern astrophysics is based on a very wrong assumption! This is very disappointing to a Physicist!

  • It is agreed that neutrinos penetrate matter with extremely rare interactions. Nearly all Physicists agree that neutrinos generally pass entirely through the Earth without interacting with anything in that process, as though the body of the Earth is not even there!

  • Yet, those same astrophysicists all seem to assume that the neutrinos that we could detect in any experiments must come from the Sun. And so they make estimates of how many neutrinos that would be detected in experiments based on the number of neutrinos that the Sun MUST BE creating.

  • For light or other radiation, that reasoning would be sound. But for particles which easily penetrate the entire diameter of the Earth, it is simply completely wrong!

  • Nearly two hundred years ago (1823), an astronomer named Olbers realized that there were an immense number of stars in the Universe, but that most of them are so far away that we do not see them individually. But what Olbers realized was that if you looked in ANY direction, far enough, eventually you must encounter the surface of some star. And so Olbers asked why the night sky was dark when this reasoning indicated that the night sky should be brilliantly bright, all comparable with the brightness of the surface of the Sun. This was known as the Olbers Paradox, and no one could provide an answer for several decades. Eventually, it was concluded that the Universe is filled with gases and dust which absorb and reflect light, and so we do not see light from extremely distant sources.

  • Actually, even that explanation is not generally considered acceptable by most Astrophysicists, as they say that IF such gases absorb radiation from stars, that would mean absorbing ENERGY, which would seem to imply that the gases would eventually become hot and radiate on their own. The common conclusion is that such an explanation of gases absorbing light cannot therefore be the explanation for the Olbers Paradox (regarding light and radiation). In fact, MODERN Astrophysicists still seem to consider the Olbers Paradox to remain unsolved! A popular idea today was from Edward Harrison in the 1960s. He ASSUMED that the Universe is 'not old enough' to yet let light from extremely distant stars to have gotten to us. That idea necessarily makes some assumptions which seem extremely weak!

  • The FACT that modern astrophysicists do not seem to recognize is that for neutrinos, there is no gas or dust to absorb or reflect neutrinos, and therefore, any experiment should be receiving neutrinos from ALL directions of space.

  • Instead of ASSUMING that the number of neutrinos which might be detected were exclusively due to processes inside our Sun, where they argue over whether there is a factor of two or three based on exactly which fusion process is occurring in the center of the Sun, they should instead be realizing that we certainly MUST be receiving more than TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND TIMES AS MANY neutrinos every second, from every direction of space.

  • So ALL experiments which have been tried over the past several decades have been based on an amazingly wrong assumption! It really does not matter whether the Sun uses one or another fusion process,as to whether the Sun is creating one or another type of Meson and therefore whether sunlight headed toward the Earth might be having CHANGES occur in the neutrinos contained in it, as the Sun's contribution to whatever neutrino traffic we experience is nearly irrelevant! The Sun certainly only produces and supplies to the Earth around 1/200,000 of the neutrinos which must be passing through us!

  • The extreme scale of this error of all arguments regarding neutrinos seems to call into doubt whether anything at all is known about neutrinos! If physicists are claiming valid data regarding neutrino traffic, in experiments deep in mines to try to eliminate other possible radiation sources, and those experimental measurements are wrong by a factor of 200,000, it all seems to imply that rather than research, they are aggressively pursuing guesses and personal assumptions, which seem to all have been extremely wrong.

  • In addition, the concept of placing the detection tanks deep in mines, may have an additional serious flaw. The have felt the need to try to minimize the effect of cosmic rays. The argument is that such a location eliminates all other sources of radiation, such that the extremely rare events that are attributed to neutrinos might be noted and counted. The reality is that even in very large detection tanks deep in mines, detecting even a single event that is attributed to a neutrino is rare even in entire months. The apparent flaw is that the Earth contains many radioactive elements inside it, and when an atom which happens to be nearby to a detection tank decays, the possible radiations which can be emitted could easily be interpreted as a result of a neutrino detection. In other words, even the assumption that a deep mine location ensures validity of neutrino detections seems quite likely to be wrong, or at least subject to question.

Almost two hundred years ago, a noted astronomer named Olbers had a brilliant question. In realizing that there are many billions of stars in the sky, and that the surface of each of them is brilliantly bright, like the surface of the Sun, it occurred to him that if you looked far enough in ANY direction you should eventually see the surface of a star!

That would mean that in every possible direction we might look, we should see intensely bright light coming in (from that direction) from a star surface. So Olbers said that that would imply that the night sky should be all brilliantly lit up everywhere, as bright as the surface of the brilliant Sun is, and at least as bright as daytime! He then noted that we all go out to a dark sky at night, so that clearly was not true. He just did not know why, and so his interesting observation came to be known as the Olbers Paradox.

For many years, no one could answer it. Eventually, (some) astronomers discovered that there are many clouds of gas, particularly inside our Galaxy but elsewhere too, which do not emit light. So they are dark clouds of gas. They act somewhat like our atmospheric rain clouds do in partially or completely blocking the light of the Sun from us.

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Therefore, one current understanding regarding the Olbers Paradox is that there is enough dark gas floating around in the Universe as to block the light from billions of distant stars. We now know that we cannot even see the region of the center of our own Galaxy, only 30,000 light years away, because there is so much interfering gas in the way!


Around 1935, Nuclear Physicists determined that there are particles now called neutrinos. A neutrino is created and emitted EVERY TIME a neutron decays (and a neutron only has a half-life of around 15 minutes) and when nuclear fusion occurs (as the Sun and all stars create their energy) and when nuclear fission occurs (what we call nuclear energy and nuclear bombs). In other words, an unbelievable number of neutrinos are being created every second! I remember reading somewhere that the Sun is supposed to create so many neutrinos that, EVERY SECOND, 400 of them pass through the cornea of each of your eyes! Forever!

When most atomic particles or nuclear radiation passes through us, there are usually clear effects when collisions occur with our body's atoms. Cancer can be caused, or genetic mutations, radiation disease, or thousands of other effect, most of which happen to be bad for us! So it is a good thing that neutrinos nearly always pass completely through us without hitting anything! More than that, standard physics agrees that nearly all neutrinos pass completely through the entire Earth without hitting anything, and so they come out the other side just like they went in!

Neutrinos are described as having no electrical charge, no magnetic characteristics, and possibly no mass at all. They are essentially nearly non-existent. Physicists first decided they must exist because there is a property of angular momentum that protons and neutrons and electrons have, usually called "spin". When a neutron decays into a proton and electron, the amount of this spin appears to not be conserved. But Newton proved that angular momentum must always be conserved. So the neutrino was invented, with essentially no characteristics at all EXCEPT spin!

For quite a while, no one could figure out any experiment that might confirm the existence of neutrinos. With ONLY spin, they wouldn't really ever cause any effect that we could record or measure! But after about 30 years, a couple experiments were created, and a small number of neutrinos were claimed to have been confirmed. There are still only a very small number of results of such experiments, and all the results are rather indirect as to actually being confirmations of neutrinos.

Neutrino Detection Experiments

According to each of several theories of the nuclear fission processes going on in the center of the Sun, a certain number of neutrinos can be calculated as being created per second. Most of the neutrinos would head out into deep space, but a small fraction would run into the Earth. Of course, most of those would go right through and not be detectable! If some sort of detector could be made of pretty large size, it is pretty easy to calculate how many neutrinos should pass through it, for each of the theories. But such detectors would have to be SO sensitive that all kinds of other particles and waves could cause results, too. So, such experiments are generally built in very deep mines. The reasoning is that cosmic rays and all of our surface activities would get blocked out by all that rock and soil, and the only things that could cause events would be neutrinos.

I am not entirely sure about that logic, because the Earth's rocks contain many radioactive materials, Radon gas, Radium, Uranium, and hundreds of others. It seems to me that if some Radon gas seeps up near that detector, or if there happens to be some Uranium nearby, then the results of the experiment would become meaningless. If a Uranium atom fissions, or even if a neutron is emitted from any nearby atom, a neutrino would be emitted that would act exactly like the ones that would allegedly come from the Sun.

However, I am not sure that is the biggest problem! The experiments are designed on calculations based on expected neutrino emissions from the Sun. And, once in a while, an event is recorded, and it is nearly always automatically attributed to the Sun. (The oldest running experiment, around 35 years, cannot tell what direction a neutrino might have come from, only that an event happened. Newer experiments are attempting to determine the direction as well.)

Keep in mind that VERY few such events are recorded! This is not like a chemical reaction where countless billions of reactions occur. A few events per year is not unusual.

Olbers Paradox as applied to Neutrinos

Consider the Olbers reasoning regarding neutrinos. Since neutrinos apparently go through absolutely everything, and since every star in the Universe should be producing neutrinos just like the Sun does, doesn't it figure that the Olbers Paradox should apply? According to accepted Physics theory, there should be at least one neutrino emitted during every nuclear fusion event, along with one or more photons of light. Even if the light is obscured from us for most of the stars, the neutrinos should not be, because they should have easily passed through any and all material on the way. Shouldn't we be getting NOT just neutrinos from the Sun, but from every star as well? In other words, shouldn't we be receiving FAR more neutrinos than simply those expected from the Sun?

We do experiments deep in underground caves and mines to detect neutrinos from the Sun, but shouldn't we actually be receiving around 200,000 times that rate of neutrinos because the total angular area of the sky is around that much larger than the angular area of the Sun? Every one of those stars that sends photons toward us must be creating an equivalent number of neutrinos in the process, right? So it seems that we should be inundated by random incoming neutrinos from every possible direction.

It seems to me that the experiments intended to find Solar neutrinos, should all be being swamped by even larger numbers of neutrinos from all those other stars. Doesn't that seem to make the Solar neutrino experiments somewhat pointless, UNLESS the precise direction of the neutrino was identified as coming from a VERY small area in the center of the Sun? (NOT from the whole visible area of the Sun but a tiny, tiny source location at the very center of the Sun!) In that case, if a large number of neutrinos were detected that came from that tiny originating space, then, yes, such experiments might make sense. Otherwise, at best, the results of such experiments seem to only imply SOME possible source of neutrinos.

And if that is NOT the case, then either the neutrinos have some sort of limitation on their mean path length or that the "map" thus created should give some indication of any non-sphericity of the Universe. In both cases, new thought seems necessary.

In other words, I do not see why the Olbers paradox should not apply to neutrinos.

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in October 2004.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago