“This is our Mars rover landing moment,” said Chris Polly, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill.,
A team of scientists out of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Illinois have been researching subatomic particles called muons, which are akin to electrons but far heavier. When the muons are shot through a magnetic field, they don't behave the way that theoretical models have predicted. That suggests that there are gaps in our understanding of the physics of the universe.
The measurements have about one chance in 40,000 of being a fluke, the scientists reported, a statistical status called “4.2 sigma.” That is still short of the gold standard — “5 sigma,” or about three parts in a million — needed to claim an official discovery by physics standards. Wednesday’s results represent only 6 percent of the total data the muon experiment is expected to garner in the coming years.
“This quantity we measure reflects the interactions of the muon with everything else in the universe,” said Renee Fatemi, a physicist at the University of Kentucky. “This is strong evidence that the muon is sensitive to something that is not in our best theory.”
These findings run similar to an experiment conducted in 2001 at the Brookhaven National Laboratory that has captivated physicist ever since.
“After 20 years of people wondering about this mystery from Brookhaven, the headline of any news here is that we confirmed the Brookhaven experimental results,” Dr. Chris Polly said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We can say with fairly high confidence, there must be something contributing to this white space,” he said. “What monsters might be lurking there?”
“Today is an extraordinary day, long awaited not only by us but by the whole international physics community,” Graziano Venanzoni, a spokesman for the collaboration and a physicist at the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, said in a statement issued by Fermilab.
On Twitter physicists responded with a mixture of enthusiasm and caution. “Of course the possibility exists that it’s new physics,” Sabine Hossenfelder, a physicist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study, said. “But I wouldn’t bet on it.”
“You might think that it’s possible for a particle to be alone in the world,” Dr. Polly said in a biographical statement posted by Fermilab. “You might think the deepest, darkest reaches of outer space are a very lonely environment indeed for particles. But in fact, it’s not lonely at all. Because of the quantum world, we know every particle is surrounded by an entourage of other particles.”
The research is being published into a series of papers submitted to the Physical Review Letters, Physical Review A, Physical Review D and Physical Review Accelerators and Beams.