Fermilab to use DUNE to discover dinosaurs

From neutrino oscillations to supernovas to proton decay, scientists working on the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment pursue a broad set of research goals.

Now the DUNE collaboration might have found a completely new application: the search for gigantic dinosaur skeletons that might be hidden in Earth’s crust.

“Most paleontologists believe that the Argentinosaurus was the largest animal ever to roam the Earth,” said Professor Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago. “It probably weighed around 100 tons. But only a tiny fraction of animals ever get fossilized and discovered. It could well be there were dinosaurs that weighed 1,000 tons or more. With DUNE, we have the chance to find out.”

DUNE will send a beam of neutrinos 800 miles straight through the Earth from Fermilab to particle detectors a mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility.  Most of the particles will go through rock and other material without leaving a trace, but occasionally a neutrino in the beam will interact with an atom and provide a signal that provides information about that atom.

An artist's interpretation shows the range of species we might find with the DUNE beam. Image: Dino Brandosaurus

An artist’s interpretation shows the range of species we might find with the DUNE beam. Image: Dino Brandosaurus

“All we need to do is capture those signals and correlate the signals that come from dinosaur bones and other sources,” said DUNE co-spokesperson and University of Chicago physicist Ed Blucher, who discussed the idea with Sereno. “If we build enough detectors and increase their sensitivity, we ultimately can scan and visualize the entire rock formation between Galena and the Black Hills and check what they contain. The best part: the beam will go through rock that is up to 20 miles deep. From gigantic dinosaurs to hidden megacaves to unknown oil reservoirs, we will be able to find out what is hidden underground – as long as it is huge!”

DUNE collaborator Chang Kee Jung and his students at Stony Brook University already have started to brainstorm names for potential dinosaur discoveries.

“Giganotosaurus neutrinosis? Titanosaurus hilarius? Barneysaurus pinkus? Cantoseeus particlatops, or CP for short?,” Jung said. “We haven’t decided yet. We will hold a contest to come up with the best name. If you have a suggestion, please come to our next Neutrino Social in the Fermilab Users Center.”

When asked about the chances to find something big that nobody has ever seen before, Fermilab Chief Research Officer Joe Lykken seemed amused and replied:

“Well, what are the chances of Easter and April 1 being on the same day?”