Hungary — Scientists in Hungary claim they may have discovered a new particle — the long-theorized “dark photon” — that, if confirmed, would “completely change our understanding of the universe,” according to the U.S. team of physicists who examined the research.
“If true, it’s revolutionary,” Jonathan Feng, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, told UCI News.
Feng led a group of scientists who analyzed the Hungary team’s data and concluded there’s merit to the claim. They authored a report on the subject, which was recently published.
After the 2012 discovery of the boson — a particle that has been speculated about since the 1960s, but took 50 years’ worth of experiments to prove — physicists were left with a problem. The boson connected many dots and tied up many loose ends in the realm of theoretical physics, solidifying much of what was already assumed to be true.
But simultaneously, the boson’s discovery highlighted physicists’ perpetual failure to explain an even biggermystery — dark matter.
Physicists define the world within the confines of the Standard Model, a collection of known particles in the universe. The boson, whose name within that rank had previously been written in pencil, was added in permanent ink in 2012.
But even after the addition of the boson, the Standard Model can still only account for about 20 percent of the mass in the universe. The remaining 80 percent is invisible, hence the term “dark matter.”
As Akshat Rathi, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry and a Bachelor of Technology in chemical engineering, recently wrote for Quartz:
“Electrons are invisible to the naked eye but not to physicists, whose powerful detectors and complex equations can spot them. Dark matter, however, is invisible in every possible way that physicists can probe it. They know it exists, because dark matter exerts gravitational force, as does any form of matter, and physicists are able to see the effects of the gravitational force.”
Essentially, after the confirmation of the boson, the pressure was on the scientific community to take on the elephant in the room, dark matter. Since then, there have been several attempts to tackle the beast — including some that inspired hope — but each of them has ultimately fallen flat.
Now, with a possible breakthrough on the horizon, a number of research teams are working to check the findings of the physicists in Hungary. The Hungarians, however, don’t appear all that worried.
“We are very confident about our experimental results,” the leader of that team, Attila Krasznahorkay of the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Institute for Nuclear Research, recently told science journal Nature. Krasznahorkay claims the team has repeated their experiment several times, and says the chances of their particle being a fluke is about one in 200 billion.
If the Hungarians’ conclusions are verified and the team has indeed discovered the long-elusive dark photon, that means theoretical physics will be one step — and quite a giant step, indeed — closer to unraveling the enigma that is dark matter.
Perhaps most fascinating, however, is the idea that the existence of dark photons within dark matter implies the existence of a “dark force” that, save for gravitationally, has no effect on ordinary matter. Physicists have speculated about this dark force for years, but since dark matter is invisible, there’s been no way to verify it exists.
This could soon change, as results from experiments now taking place could come back in as little as a year.
Jesse Thaler, a theoretical physicist at MIT, is cautious but hopeful about the research now being conducted. Speaking to Nature, he said:
“Perhaps we are seeing our first glimpse into physics beyond the visible Universe.”
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