PARIS (AFP) – Scientists believe they may have discovered a “new force of nature” at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider that could explain why certain atomic particles behave in unexpected ways and that may transform our understanding of the rudiments of physics.
The research authors said this week that their results should “make physicists’ hearts beat a little faster” after they discovered evidence for a “completely new” type of particle.
Since its inception more than a decade ago, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has sought to delve into the secrets of the universe by studying the smallest and most discrete particles of matter as they collide at nearly the speed of light.
Aside from the discovery of the Higgs boson, a previously theoretical particle that gives matter mass, the project has so far failed to shed much light on how the building blocks of matter work.
According to the standard model of particle physics, particles known as quarks, many of which are unstable and exist for only a fraction of a second, can form heavier particles like protons and neutrons.
Quarks can also break down into other particles known as leptons, including so-called “beauty” quarks, which were discovered at the LHCb in 2014.
The anomaly detected at the time was that quarks also seemed to break down into another type of lepton, muons, less often than they did break down into electrons.
The Standard Model predicts that beauty quarks would decompose into muons at the same rate that they decompose into electrons.
“The only way these decays could occur at different speeds is if some previously unseen particles were involved in the decay and tipped the scales against muons,” the authors of this week’s research wrote on The Conversation site.
Until recently, there was not enough data to say for sure what was happening inside the LHC.
In 2019, scientists rerun the 2014 experiment on beauty quarks with additional information collected in the intervening years.
The data set has now been doubled, and the team that studied it worked “blindly” (they could not see the result until all procedures had been reviewed) to avoid any accidental interpretation bias.
When the result was finally known, the data showed that there were about 85 muon decays for every 100 electron decays.
The authors said there was only a one in a thousand chance that the result occurred by chance, which is not enough to prove the existence of a still unknown particle, but there is strong evidence in favor of its existence.
‘Part of a bigger puzzle’
The authors offered several possible explanations.
First, the variable decay rate could be the result of a “Z prime” particle, essentially a new force of nature.
“This force would be extremely weak, so we haven’t seen any sign of it so far, and it would interact with electrons and muons differently,” they wrote.
Another possibility is the hypothetical “lyptoquark”, which can decompose quarks and leptons simultaneously and which “could be part of a larger puzzle that explains why we see the particles that we see in nature.”
Dr Chris Parkes, spokesman for the University of Manchester LHCb and CERN, said that if the results were confirmed “it would require a new physical process, such as the existence of new particles or fundamental interactions.”
The researchers said more experimentation was needed to confirm the results.
But if the data is confirmed, they said they would have evidence for “part of the bigger picture that lies beyond the standard model, which could ultimately allow us to unravel any number of established mysteries.”