Data from a major U.S. atom smasher may have revealed a new elementary particle, or even a new force of nature like gravity or magnetism, a lab has told AFP.
The findings could offer clues to the persistent riddle of mass and how objects obtain it – one of the most sought-after questions in all of physics.
However the ‘bump’ in results could just be an error. Experts say more analysis is needed over the next several months to uncover the true nature of the discovery.
The results are part of an ongoing experiment – now in its 25th year – with proton and anti-proton collisions to understand the workings of the universe.
Physicists from the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, which operates the ‘Tevatron’ atom-smasher, have been studying the bump in data for more than a year.
The findings have caused a stir within the physics community.
‘There could be some new force beyond the force that we know,’ said Giovanni Punzi, a physicist with the international research team that is analysing the data at the lab.
‘If it is confirmed, it could point to a whole new world of interactions,’ he told AFP.
Researchers agree the findings are not the ‘God Particle’ or the ‘Higgs-boson’, a hypothetical elementary particle which has long eluded physicists who believe it could explain why objects have mass.
‘The Higgs-boson is a piece that goes into the puzzle that we already have,’ said Punzi.
‘Whereas this is something that goes a little bit beyond that – a new interaction, a new force.’
Punzi added the new observation behaves differently than the Higgs-boson, which would be decaying into heavy quarks, or particles.
The new discovery ‘is decaying in normal quarks,’ Punzi said. ‘It has different features,’ he added.
Nigel Lockyer, director of Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, TRIUMF, described the results as ‘tantalizing’.
‘It is too early to say for sure what the Fermilab team has observed,’ he added in an email to AFP.
‘On the one hand, there is clear evidence for something unexplained, and on the other, there is a long list of alternative explanations for what might be causing this subtle observation,’ he said.
‘My personal judgement is that this excitement is adding fuel to the fire for the next generation of results and discoveries that will be made at the LHC (in Europe) and elsewhere.
‘We are so close to learning something profound.’
The Tevatron was once the most powerful machine in the world for atom smashing until 2008 when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) became operational at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which goes by the acronym CERN.
The U.S. machine began its work in the mid 1980s, and is scheduled for shutdown later this year when its funding runs dry.
Whether some bits will be used in other experiments or whether it will end up as part of a science exhibition is currently being decided by a committee, according to sources.
Until then scientists will continue to analyse the data and the bump, which should become clearer in the next few months.
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