Physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland may have detected a new massive particle that spits out two photons as it decays.
A “mysterious bump” in photon production was detected in two independent cases. Scientists got busy “checking, cross-checking and rechecking the data” and concluded that the blip may not be random. In fact, it may point to the presence of an entirely new particle, perhaps a graviton.
Both experiments have come to the same conclusion — the bump is still there
Particles in the hadron collider are smashed together at massive speeds — 99.9999991 percent of the speed of light — and the new particles or “debris” created are analyzed by detectors. The presence of an unexpected “blip” or peculiar output suggests that a new particle (one not accounted for in current physics models) may have been detected. The fact that the “blip” appeared in two independent cases, recorded by the two main detectors Atlas and CMS, makes the development especially promising, as it may not be a random effect or the result of noise, according to the Guardian.
Both [Atlas and CMS] have detected more high-energy photons in their collisions, and in both cases, they point to a new particle six times more massive than the Higgs boson. If the particle is real, physicists will be stunned. It would be the tip of an iceberg of new particles and forces.
Both detectors separately saw photons with a combined energy of 750 GeV.
Some have suggested that the new particle may even be a graviton, a particle that was first theorized in the 1930s but has thus far eluded researchers. Others have suggested that the new particle could be a cousin of the Higgs boson, which was finally discovered in 2012.
Speculation is rife. Some physicists suspect that the blip may be a heavier cousin of the Higgs boson, the mass-giving particle the LHC discovered in 2012. Alternatively, it could mean the Higgs itself is made up of a bunch of smaller particles. Others wonder if the bump might be a graviton, a particle that transmits gravity. That would be truly remarkable: so far, gravity has proved impossible to reconcile with theories of other particles and forces.
— Scientific American (@sciam) March 19, 2016
Fox News reports that we may be about to enter “a new era of physics.” The Guardian reports more cautiously, emphasizing that there is still a chance the blips could have surfaced randomly and that they do not point to the presence of any new particles. More data is needed, and the events of this year will be decisive.
[I]t may be nothing. The LHC hunts for signs of new physics by slamming particles together and capturing the debris in giant detectors. It is a world where quantum weirdness rules, and random blips in the data are a daily nuisance. But what if this latest bump in the data has solid foundations? Enter a new era of physics, and a world of hitherto unknown particles and forces. Scientists should know by July whether the particle is real or not”
We cannot call it a new discovery just yet, but that has not stopped the physics community from rushing to theorize about the characteristics of the exciting potential new particle. Researchers have already “produced a flood of potential explanations.” Prospect reports that nearly 300 papers have been written and posted online since the blip was detected.
When the Higgs Boson was detected in 2012, it was a massive blow in favor of the Standard Model of Physics, as the Higgs’ boson’s presence had been predicted by theorists working in the Standard Model. If a new particle has indeed been detected in 2016, it may point to the viability of the favored alternative model: supersymmetry. It could also solve or shed light on the question of why the Higgs boson is so light, which has troubled theorists, according to the CERN website.
At first sight, the Standard Model seems to predict that all particles should be massless, an idea at odds with what we observe around us. Theorists have come up with a mechanism to give particles masses that requires the existence of a new particle, the Higgs boson. However, it is a puzzle why the Higgs boson should be light, as interactions between it and Standard-Model particles would tend to make it very heavy. The extra particles predicted by supersymmetry would cancel out the contributions to the Higgs mass from their Standard-Model partners, making a light Higgs boson possible.
The exciting new discovery may even take us one step closer to constructing a theory that mathematically unites all the fundamental forces — strong, weak, gravitational and electromagnetic. The so-called grand unified theory has been a dream of many physicists, including Einstein, who predicted the existence of gravitational waves.
— Mario Livio (@Mario_Livio) March 19, 2016
[Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images]