Understanding the mysterious dark matter in our universe is paramount to cosmologists. Dark matter and dark energy makes up the vast majority of mass in the observable universe. It influences galaxy rotation, galactic clusters and even holds the answer to our universe’s fate. So, it is unsurprising to hear about some outlandish physics behind the possible structure of this concealed mass. A Harvard scientist has now stepped up the plate, publishing his understanding about dark matter, believing the answer may lie in a type of material that has a mass, but doesn’t behave like a particle. “Unparticles” may also be detected by the high energy particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Detector (LHD) at CERNÂ going online in a few weeks time. High energy physics is about to get stranger than it already is…
Dark matter is theorized to take on many forms, including: neutron stars, weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), neutrinos, black holes and massive compact halo objects (MACHOs). It is hard, however, to understand where the majority of mass comes from if you can’t observe it, so much of what we “know” about this dark source of matter and energy will remain theory until we can actually find a way of observing it. Now, we have a chance, not only to observe a form of dark matter, but also to generate it.
Professor Howard Georgi, a Harvard University physicist, wants to share his idea that the “missing mass” of the universe may be held in a type of matter that cannot be explained by the current understanding of physics. The revelation came to him when he was researching what can be expected from the future results of LHC experiments. Beginning with quantum mechanics (as one would expect), he focused on the interactions between sub-atomic particles. Using the “Standard Model”, which describes everything we know and understand about matter in our universe (interactions, symmetry, leptons, bosons etc.), Georgi soon came to a dead end. He then side stepped a basic premise of the standard model: the forces that govern particle interactions act differently at different length scales.
“I did think I was crazy,” Prof. Georgi on the moment he stumbled on the “unparticle theory”.
This is one of the major failings of the standard model – the unification of the four universal forces: weak force, strong force, electromagnetic force and gravitational force. The standard model unites the first three, but neglects gravity. Gravity simply does not fit. So Georgi took the bold step and calculated what could be generated by the LHC without the help of standard sub-atomic thinking and scale length restrictions.
The unparticle would therefore be “scale invariant”, a property of fractals. Unparticles can interact over any scale lengths without restriction. When viewed, the unparticle will act as a fractal and will look similar over any scale (a characteristic known as self-similarity). Unparticles will also take on any mass, some or all the mass, depending on the scale you are viewing at. Now the implication of mass suddenly becomes interesting to the dark matter hunters out there. Unparticles could be a huge source of dark matter.
As they have mass, unparticles would also possess an “ungravity”. Ungravity should have a strong, short-distance effect on matter in the observable world, and so, may be observed by sufficiently sensitive gravity probes.
Whether unparticles exist or not, exploring the possibility that standard thinking may need to be slightly re-jigged for the extreme world of high energy particle collisions will surely lead to some healthy scientific debate. For now, we wait in anticipation for when the LHC goes online in May this year.