Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Potentially exciting news in the world of particle physics!
It's big news for particle physicists, but I doubt you've heard this on the evening news. The Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab in Illinois has data that potentially points to the existence of a NEW fundamental particle.
Currently, physicists describe all the fundamental interactions in nature (except for gravity) by something called the Standard Model. It's done well for the time it's been around, but most physicists believe it's incomplete. Fermilab may have found proof of this.
A particle accelerator is a large device that sends two beams of charged particles in opposite directions. When these beams collide, the particles in the beam break apart and energy is released. This energy sometimes reforms into different types of particles, and the rules governing this are contained in the Standard Model.
Take a look at the graph above. The red line is what they would expect to see with the collisions they were doing. The black dots are the data collected. The blue line is a curve fitted to the bump in the dots - this is what they are excited about. Because that bump isn't predicted, it could mean a new particle previously unknown to physicists!
Of course, there's another possibility - this is statistical deviation from what we expect. The probability of this being the case is about 1 in 45. I like those odds, but they are far from conclusive. Only time will tell! This problem looks like it will be solved in the coming months by data collected at the LHC in Switzerland and France.