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How can a tiny neutrino produce massive W+ and electron?

  1. Jul 23, 2014 #1
    A charged lepton can absorb a W+ boson and be converted into a neutrino, and visa versa. The neutrino has such small rest mass, how can it produce these large particles/be produced by them?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 23, 2014 #2
    The energy of the neutrino matters more than its rest mass. Consider the reaction

    ##\bar \nu_e + p \to e^+ + n##

    that is: an electron-antineutrino hits a proton and in the process of the collision the proton turns into a neutron and the antineutrino turns into a positron. This happens via the exchange of a W boson between the antineutrino and the proton.

    You are right that a lepton like a positron is much heavier than a neutrino. Also, a neutron is heavier than a proton. The extra rest-mass energy is supplied by the kinetic energy of the initial particles. Therefore this reaction can only happen if the antineutrino has enough kinetic energy to supply the missing rest-mass energy needed to make the final-state particles.
  4. Jul 23, 2014 #3


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    The W+ boson is often a virtual particle - "its energy" (note: this is not really a well-defined value here) can be below the W mass.
    To produce positrons or other reaction products, it needs enough kinetic energy.
  5. Jul 24, 2014 #4
    Dear mfb and The Duck-
    Thanks very much for your answers - I understand!
    Best, Mark
  6. Jul 25, 2014 #5


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    Also a single neutrino (alone), cannot decay to another particle because of energy conservation...
  7. Jul 5, 2015 #6
    The requirement for neutrinos to have extra kinetic energy (or be at a higher energy level) is one of the reasons they rarely experience a charged current of the weak force, despite there being so many of them in existence.

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