I am fascinated by neutrinos! These puzzling elementary particles vastly outnumber all other particles in our universe, except photons. Neutrinos interact very weakly. Three distinct families or “flavors” of neutrinos exist and they oscillate (convert) into each other by flavor mixing.
Spanning an incredibly large energy range, neutrinos are copiously produced in a variety of astrophysical environments, ranging from stars like the Sun to the most extreme astrophysical transients like core-collapse supernovae and neutron star mergers. Many cosmic accelerators, such as gamma-ray bursts or active galactic nuclei, should also produce neutrinos. Owing to their feeble interactions, neutrinos have the extraordinary ability to escape, almost unimpeded, from cosmic sources and carry information on sites not otherwise accessible. If you are curious to know more about neutrinos and their sources, check our review paper (Vitagliano, Tamborra, Raffelt, 2019).
My research mainly revolves around neutrinos in astrophysics, multi-messenger astrophysics, and neutrino cosmology. Below, I provide a glimpse on my work.
Neutrinos are crucial to the dynamics of the most spectacular events in our galaxy:
Core-collapse supernovae (SN). According to the delayed neutrino-driven explosion mechanism, neutrinos provide new energy to the stalled shock wave to trigger the SN explosion. The most recent SN simulations in 3D suggest that neutrinos and gravitational waves carry experimentally detectable imprints of the pre-explosion SN dynamics and related hydrodynamical instabilities. Neutrinos also drive the LESA hydrodynamical instability. LESA consists of an astonishingly large asymmetric emission of electron neutrinos with respect to electron antineutrinos with possible major implications for flavor conversions and nucleosynthesis. Moreover, neutrinos can be used as gyroscopes to probe the SN rotation and may be the only detectable probes of black-hole forming stellar collapses.
Supernovae are neutrino-dense environments where neutrino-neutrino interactions are not negligible. Neutrino self-interactions are responsible for coupling the flavor evolution of neutrinos of different energies in a non-linear fashion. Recent developments concern the possibility that fast pairwise neutrino conversions occur, possibly leading to flavor equilibration. If this conjecture is confirmed, the SN explosion mechanism as well as the synthesis of the heavy elements will be dramatically affected. A realistic appraisal of the role of neutrino conversions in the synthesis of the elements in the SN neutrino-driven wind is still missing, although we are currently starting to integrate flavor conversion physics in nucleosynthesis networks self-consistently.
A SN explodes somewhere in the Universe every second. The detection of the cumulative flux of neutrinos from all SNe, the so-called Diffuse Supernova Neutrino Background (DSNB), is now within reach. The DSNB will allow to constrain properties of the SN population, such as the fraction of black-hole forming supernovae and the local supernova rate. If you are curious to learn more about the role of neutrinos in SNe, check our review paper on the topic (Mirizzi, Tamborra et al., 2016).
Compact Binary Mergers
The massive neutron star (NS) or black hole (BH) accretion disk resulting from NS–NS or NS–BH mergers is dense in neutrinos, similarly to SNe. In compact mergers the flux density of electron antineutrinos is larger than the one of electron neutrinos, differently from core-collapse supernovae. Flavor instabilities could occur everywhere above the neutrino emitting surfaces in mergers because of the merger geometry and the natural excess of electron antineutrinos. As a consequence, a significant enhancement of nuclei with mass numbers A>130 is expected as well as a change of the lanthanide mass fraction by more than a factor of a thousand. Our findings hint towards a potentially relevant role of neutrino flavor oscillations for the prediction of the kilonova lightcurves.
High Energy Neutrinos from Cosmic Accelerators
The high-energy neutrino astronomy era just begun! IceCube, a giant neutrino telescope deployed deep in the Antartic ice, recently detected cosmic neutrinos with PeV energy, the highest energy ever observed. We do not know yet the exact origin of these neutrinos, although it seems plausible that they are generated from cosmic accelerators out of our Galaxy.
By employing the most recent electromagnetic data, collected at different wavelengths, we investigate the neutrino production in a range of cosmic accelerators, such as star-forming galaxies, galaxy clusters and gamma-ray bursts. In particular, low-luminosity and choked gamma-ray bursts could provide a substantial contribution to the diffuse background of high-energy neutrinos.
We only have a bunch of neutrino events, nevertheless we are already able to constrain the physics of cosmic accelerators by employing neutrino data, e.g. the IceCube neutrinos suggest that up to the 1% of existing core-collapse supernovae can harbor jets and most of these jets are expected to be choked.
Astrophysical Neutrinos as Probes of Physics Beyond the Standard Model
Neutrinos of astrophysical origin provide a fascinating window into Physics Beyond the Standard Model. For example, if neutrinos convert in keV-mass sterile neutrinos in the SN core, a non-negligible lepton asymmetry generates with possibly major implications on the SN physics. At the same time, a self-consistent treatment of the production of keV-sterile neutrinos in the SN environment leads to very different bounds on the mass-mixing of these particles. Similar conclusions hold for light sterile neutrinos and other scenarios involving New Physics.
The high-energy neutrinos observed by the IceCube Observatory can also carry observable imprints of New Physics occurring within the source or during propagation to Earth. Hence, astrophysical neutrino data already allow to place stringent independent bounds on New Physics.
The Early Universe is dense in neutrinos. Neutrinos are usually assumed to be fully thermalized at the BBN epoch. However, this assumption may be modified (with a non-negligible impact on the observables) because of non-standard physics affecting the neutrino sector and flavor conversions. A sophisticated modeling of the neutrino propagation in the Early Universe is still missing given our superficial understanding of neutrino conversions in dense media, we are working to asses the impact that neutrino physics may have on the cosmological observables.