Physicists Maybe, Just Maybe, Confirm the Possible Discovery of 5th Force of Nature

For some time, physicists have understood that all known phenomena in the Universe are governed by four fundamental forces. These include weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, electromagnetism and gravity. Whereas the first three forces of are all part of the Standard Model of particle physics, and can be explained through quantum mechanics, our understanding of gravity is dependent upon Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Understanding how these four forces fit together has been the aim of theoretical physics for decades, which in turn has led to the development of multiple theories that attempt to reconcile them (i.e. Super String Theory, Quantum Gravity, Grand Unified Theory, etc). However, their efforts may be complicated (or helped) thanks to new research that suggests there might just be a fifth force at work.

In a paper that was recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters, a research team from the University of California, Irvine explain how recent particle physics experiments may have yielded evidence of a new type of boson. This boson apparently does not behave as other bosons do, and may be an indication that there is yet another force of nature out there governing fundamental interactions.

Image from Dark Universe, showing the distribution of dark matter in the universe. Credit: AMNH
Image from Dark Universe, showing the distribution of dark matter in the universe. Credit: AMNH

As Jonathan Feng, a professor of physics & astronomy at UCI and one of the lead authors on the paper, said:

“If true, it’s revolutionary. For decades, we’ve known of four fundamental forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. If confirmed by further experiments, this discovery of a possible fifth force would completely change our understanding of the universe, with consequences for the unification of forces and dark matter.”

The efforts that led to this potential discovery began back in 2015, when the UCI team came across a study from a group of experimental nuclear physicists from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Nuclear Research. At the time, these physicists were looking into a radioactive decay anomaly that hinted at the existence of a light particle that was 30 times heavier than an electron.

In a paper describing their research, lead researcher Attila Krasznahorka and his colleagues claimed that what they were observing might be the creation of “dark photons”. In short, they believed that they might have at last found evidence of Dark Matter, the mysterious, invisible mass that makes up about 85% of the Universe’s mass.

This report was largely overlooked at the time, but gained widespread attention earlier this year when Prof. Feng and his research team found it and began assessing its conclusions. But after studying the Hungarian teams results and comparing them to previous experiments, they concluded that the experimental evidence did not support the existence of dark photons.

This is the signature of one of 100s of trillions of particle collisions detected at the Large Hadron Collider. The combined analysis lead to the discovery of the Higgs Boson. This article describes one team in dissension with the results. (Photo Credit: CERN)
Signature of one of 100s of trillions of particle collisions detected by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. Credit: CERN

Instead, they proposed that the discovery could indicate the possible presence of a fifth fundamental force of nature. These findings were published in arXiv in April, which was followed-up by a paper titled “Particle Physics Models for the 17 MeV Anomaly in Beryllium Nuclear Decays“, which was published in PRL this past Friday.

Essentially, the UCI team argue that instead of a dark photon, what the Hungarian research team might have witnessed was the creation of a previously undiscovered boson – which they have named the “protophobic X boson”. Whereas other bosons interact with electrons and protons, this hypothetical boson interacts with only electrons and neutrons, and only at an extremely limited range.

This limited interaction is believed to be the reason why the particle has remained unknown until now, and why the adjectives “photobic” and “X” are added to the name. “There’s no other boson that we’ve observed that has this same characteristic,” said Timothy Tait, a professor of physics & astronomy at UCI and the co-author of the paper. “Sometimes we also just call it the ‘X boson,’ where ‘X’ means unknown.”

If such a particle does exist, the possibilities for research breakthroughs could be endless. Feng hopes it could be joined with the three other forces governing particle interactions (electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear forces) as a larger, more fundamental force. Feng also speculated that this possible discovery could point to the existence of a “dark sector” of our universe, which is governed by its own matter and forces.

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Credit: CERN/LHC
The existence of a fifth fundamental force could mean big things for the experiments being conducted with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Credit: CERN/LHC

“It’s possible that these two sectors talk to each other and interact with one another through somewhat veiled but fundamental interactions,” he said. “This dark sector force may manifest itself as this protophopic force we’re seeing as a result of the Hungarian experiment. In a broader sense, it fits in with our original research to understand the nature of dark matter.”

If this should prove to be the case, then physicists may be closer to figuring out the existence of dark matter (and maybe even dark energy), two of the greatest mysteries in modern astrophysics. What’s more, it could aid researchers in the search for physics beyond the Standard Model – something the researchers at CERN have been preoccupied with since the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012.

But as Feng notes, we need to confirm the existence of this particle through further experiments before we get all excited by its implications:

“The particle is not very heavy, and laboratories have had the energies required to make it since the ’50s and ’60s. But the reason it’s been hard to find is that its interactions are very feeble. That said, because the new particle is so light, there are many experimental groups working in small labs around the world that can follow up the initial claims, now that they know where to look.”

As the recent case involving CERN – where LHC teams were forced to announce that they had not discovered two new particles – demonstrates, it is important not to count our chickens before they are roosted. As always, cautious optimism is the best approach to potential new findings.

Further Reading: University of California, Irvine

Ping-Pong Particles: What the Higgs Does

Unless you’ve been hiding under a chondrite for the past week you’ve heard the news from CERN regarding the discovery of a new particle that exhibits “Higgs-like” qualities. Particle physics isn’t the easiest discipline to wrap one’s head around, and while we’ve recently shared some simplified explanations of what exactly a Higgs boson is, well…here’s another.

Here, BBC’s Jonathan Amos attempts to demonstrate what the Higgs field does, and what part the boson plays. Some Ping-Pong balls, a little sugar, and a cafeteria tray is all it takes to give an idea of how essential this long-sought after subatomic particle is to the Universe. (If only finding it had been that easy!)

Video: BBC News

What’s a Higgs Boson, Anyway?

With the science world all abuzz in anticipation of tomorrow’s official announcement from CERN in regards to its hunt for the Higgs, some of you may be wondering, “what’s a Higgs?” And for that matter, what’s a boson?

The video above, released a couple of months ago by the talented Jorge Cham at PHDcomics, gives a entertaining run-down of subatomic particles, how they interact and how, if it exists — which, by now, many are sure it does — the Higgs relates to them.

It’s the 7-minutes course in particle physics you’ll wish you had taken in college (unless you’re a particle physicist in which case… well, you’d still probably have enjoyed it.)

Credit: PHDcomics.com

Tevatron Targets Higgs Mass

Today, researchers from Fermilab announced they have zeroed in further on the mass of the Higgs boson, the controversially-called “God particle”* that is thought to be the key to all mass in the Universe. This news comes just two days before a highly-anticipated announcement by CERN during the ICHEP physics conference in Melbourne, Australia (which is expected by many to confirm actual proof of the Higgs.)

Even after analyzing the data from 500 trillion collisions produced over the past decade at Fermilab’s Tevatron particle collider the Higgs particle has not been identified directly. But a narrower range for its mass has been established with some certainty: according to the research the Higgs, if it exists, has a mass between 115 and 135 GeV/c2.

“Our data strongly point toward the existence of the Higgs boson, but it will take results from the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe to establish a discovery,” said Fermilab’s Rob Roser, cospokesperson for the CDF experiment at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Researchers hunt for the Higgs by looking for particles that it breaks down into. With the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, scientists look for energetic photons, while at Fermilab CDF and DZero collaborators have been searching for bottom quarks. Both are viable results expected from the decay of a Higgs particle, “just as a vending machine might return the same amount of change using different combinations of coins.”

Fermilab’s results have a statistical significance of 2.9 sigma, meaning that there’s a 1-in-550 chance that the data was the result of something else entirely. While a 5-sigma significance is required for an official “discovery”, these findings show that the Higgs is running out of places to hide.

“We have developed sophisticated simulation and analysis programs to identify Higgs-like patterns,” said Luciano Ristori, co-spokesperson of the CDF experiment. “Still, it is easier to look for a friend’s face in a sports stadium filled with 100,000 people than to search for a Higgs-like event among trillions of collisions.”

“We achieved a critical step in the search for the Higgs boson. Nobody expected the Tevatron to get this far when it was built in the 1980s.”

– Dmitri Denisov, DZero cospokesperson and physicist at Fermilab

Nearly 50 years since it was proposed, physicists may now be on the edge of exposing this elusive and essential ingredient of… well, everything.

See the Fermilab press release here.

Read Fermilab’s FAQs on the Higgs boson

Top image: The Tevatron typically produced about 10 million proton-antiproton collisions per second. Each collision produced hundreds of particles. The CDF and DZero experiments recorded about 200 collisions per second for further analysis. Sub-image: The three-story, 6,000-ton CDF detector recorded snapshots of the particles that emerge when protons and antiprotons collide.(Fermilab)

*And why is it often called the God particle? Because of this book.