We take a fresh look at the limits on the number of neutrino flavors derived from big bang nucleosynthesis. In particular, recent measurements of the 4He abundance enable one to estimate the primordial 4He mass fraction at Yp = 0.232 ± 0.003(stat) ± 0.005 (syst). For a baryon to photon ratio, η, consistent with the other light elements, this leads to a best fit for the number of neutrino flavors Nν < 3 (the precise number depends on η) indicating a very strong upper limit to Nν. Here, we derive new upper limits on Nν, paying special attention to the fact that the best estimate may lie in an unphysical region (Nν < 3 if all three neutrino flavors are light or massless; the lower bound to Nν may even be as low as 2, if the small window for a ντ mass is exploited). Our resulting upper limits therefore depend on whether Nν ≥ 2 or 3 is assumed. We also explore the sensitivity of our results to the adopted value of η and the assumed systematic errors in Yp.
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We especially thank Paul Langacker for calling to our attentiont hekey issue we haved iscussedh erea nd, Naoya Hata, Bob Scherrer, Dave Thomas and Terry Walker for permission to utilize some of the resultso f our joint work in this manuscript.W e also would like to thankT . Falk and M. Roos for helpful conversations. This work was supportedi n part by DOE grants DE-FG02-94ER40823 and DE-AC02-76ERO1545.