Physics as we know it may be facing a revolution after data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN suggested a violation of the Standard Model of particle physics, which may point to the existence of new particles or a new force of nature, according to a new paper published last week.
Physicists from the Universities of Cambridge, Bristol, and Imperial College London taking part in the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) experiment at CERN led the analysis which found evidence that "beauty quarks," a type of fundamental particle, do not decay in the way they should following the Standard Model.
Beauty quarks, particles similar to but heavier than electrons, interact with all forces in the same way, so they should decay into muons and electrons at the same rate.
However, the data collected by the LHCb seems to show that these quarks are decaying into muons less often than they decay into electrons, which should only be possible if unknown particles are interfering and making them more likely to decay into electrons.
Previously collected and analyzed data from the past ten years has presented consistent results, but the newest results are more precise than the previous measurements, according to CERN – the European Council for Nuclear Research.The data is still not strong enough to make any definitive statements, according to the University of Cambridge. The most recent data is three standard deviations from the Standard Model, meaning there is a 1 in 1,000 chance that the measurement is a statistical coincidence. The gold standard of particle physics is five standard deviations, also known as five sigma, meaning there is about a 1 in 3.5 million chance that the measurement is a statistical coincidence.
“This new result offers tantalizing hints of the presence of a new fundamental particle or force that interacts differently with these different types of particles," said Dr. Paula Alvarez Cartelle of the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, one of the leaders of the team that found the results. “The more data we have, the stronger this result has become. This measurement is the most significant in a series of LHCb results from the past decade that all seem to line up – and could all point towards a common explanation."
The paper has not yet been peer-reviewed.
"We were actually shaking when we first looked at the results, we were that excited. Our hearts did beat a bit faster," said Dr. Mitesh Patel of Imperial College London, one of the leading physicists behind the measurement, according to the University of Cambridge.
“It’s too early to say if this genuinely is a deviation from the Standard Model but the potential implications are such that these results are the most exciting thing I’ve done in 20 years in the field," he said. "It has been a long journey to get here.”
While the Standard Model doesn't explain about 95% of what the universe is made of, it is the current central theory of particle physics. If the results are confirmed further, it could open a whole new area of physics to discover.
“The discovery of a new fundamental force or particle, as hinted at by the evidence of differences in these measurements, could provide the breakthrough required to start to answer these fundamental questions,” said Dr. Konstantinos Petridis of the University of Bristol, according to Cambridge.
The LHCb will now work to further verify their results. The experiment is one of four large experiments at the collider that studies decays of particles containing a beauty quark.The "beauty" is one of the six "flavors" or types of quarks in the Standard Model, and is now more commonly called the bottom quark. The other five flavors are up, down, charm, strange and top, the latter having also been called the truth quark.
The LHC is the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator, measuring 27-kilometers long. Two high-energy particle beams travel at close to the speed of light inside the accelerator until they collide, forming new particles and allowing physicists to study particles that are unstable and cannot be directly observed.Natan Rothstein contributed to this report.