'Something Fundamental' May Be Off in Physics

New finding about key particle baffles Fermi scientists
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 7, 2022 4:41 PM CDT
New Finding Baffles Physicists
This undated photo provided by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in April 2022 shows the facility's Collider Detector outside Batavia, Ill.   (Fermilab via AP)

The grand explanation physicists use to describe how the universe works may have some major new flaws to patch after a fundamental particle was found to have more mass than scientists thought. “It’s not just something is wrong,” said Dave Toback, a particle physicist at Texas A&M University and a spokesperson for the US government's Fermi National Accelerator Lab, which conducted the experiments. If replicated by other labs, "it literally means something fundamental in our understanding of nature is wrong." The physicists at the lab crashed particles together over 10 years and measured the mass of 4 million W bosons, per the AP. These subatomic particles are responsible for a fundamental force at the center of atoms, and they exist for only a fraction of a second before they decay into other particles.

“They are constantly popping in and out of existence in the quantum froth of the universe,” Toback said. The difference in mass from what the prevailing theory of the universe predicts is too big to be a rounding error or anything that could be easily explained away, according to the study by a team of 400 scientists from around the world published Thursday in the journal Science. The result is so extraordinary it must be confirmed by another experiment, scientists say. If is confirmed, it would present one of the biggest problems yet with scientists’ detailed rulebook for the cosmos, called the standard model. Duke University physicist Ashutosh V. Kotwal, the project leader for analysis, said it’s like discovering there’s a hidden room in your house.

Scientists speculated that there may be an undiscovered particle that is interacting with the W boson that could explain the difference. Maybe dark matter, another poorly understood component of the universe, could be playing a role. Or maybe there’s just new physics involved that they just don’t understand at the moment, researchers said. The standard model says a W boson should measure 80,357,000 electron volts, plus or minus six. ”We found it slightly more than that. Not that much, but it’s enough,” said Giorgio Chiarelli, another scientist for the Fermi team. The team’s scale put the W boson at a heftier 80,433,000 electron volts, plus or minus nine. It doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it is a huge one in the subatomic world.

(More physics stories.)

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