Scientists at Firmilab are believed to be closing in on one of the most significant breakthroughs in the human study of the world, blazing yet another trail for scientific research and discoveries. If confirmed, this discovery would arguably mean one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs for a century since Einstein’s theories of relativity.
That is because a fifth force and any particles associated with it are not bound by the Standard Model of particle physics.
It all began when evidence began to pile up that a type of subatomic particle called muons was reacting to laws outside the current theories of subatomic physics. This observation set the astounded minds of those scientists moving in another, more exciting direction.
What if there was another force of nature acting upon those subatomic particles?
All the forces we experience daily can be subsumed into just four categories: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force and the weak force. These four fundamental forces dictate how all the objects and particles in the Universe interact with each other. Now, there could be a fifth added to that list.
Of course, this bold perspective requires more than observations to be a discovery on par with Einstein’s theory of relativity. More data will be needed to establish a fifth force of nature.
These potentially groundbreaking findings were made at a US particle accelerator facility called Fermilab. The facility’s researchers built on results announced in 2021 in which the Fermilab team first suggested the possibility of a fifth force of nature. This statement resulted from an experiment with the subatomic particles known as muons.
Muons are similar to electrons which orbit atoms and are responsible for electrical currents, but they are about 200 times as massive. They were made to wobble in the experiment using powerful, superconducting magnets.
The results showed that the muons wobbled faster than the standard model said it should. Professor Graziano Venanzoni of Liverpool University, one of the leading researchers on the project, told BBC News that this might be caused by an unknown new force.
“We think there could be another force, something that we are not aware of now. It is something different, which we call the ‘fifth force’. It is something different, something we don’t know about yet, but it should be important because it says something new about the Universe.” He stated.
Dr. Brendan Casey, another senior scientist at the facility, also said this about the discovery.
“We’re really probing new territory. We’re determining the (measurements) at a better precision than it has ever been seen before.”
In an experiment with the catchy name ‘g minus two (g-2)’, the researchers accelerate the sub-atomic particles called muons around a 15m-diameter ring, where they are circulated about 1,000 times at nearly the speed of light. The researchers found that they might behave in a way that can’t be explained by the current theory, the Standard Model, because of the influence of a new force of nature.
As with every research that probes a new territory, there is little or nothing to make reference from. Every step forward must be backed with conclusive data or taken in the dark. The Fermilab team still lacks that definitive data and must proceed cautiously.
They had hoped to get the data they needed by the time of this writing. Still, uncertainties in what the standard model says the amount of wobbling in muons should have increased because of developments in theoretical physics. The researchers still believe they will have the data they need and that the theoretical uncertainty will have narrowed sufficiently in two years for them to reach their goal.
However, they might have to narrow down their time limit of two years further to prevent others from leaping into the sky from their backs.
A rival facility at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider hopes to beat them to the race. Thousands of physicists at the LHC have been working on finding flaws in the Standard Model. One of them, Dr. Mitesh Patel, claims that the first set of people to find those flaws in the Standard Model will be able to herald one of the most incredible breakthroughs in physics.
“Measuring behaviour that doesn’t agree with the predictions of the Standard Model is the holy grail for particle physics. It would fire the starting gun for a revolution in our understanding because the model has withstood all experimental tests for more than 50 years.” He told BBC News.