Everything we think we know about physics could be rooted in a fundamental flaw, according to an incredible experiment recently conducted at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. If verified, the discovery could herald an entirely new era in physics, reports Science Alert.
The hubbub surrounds an obscure particle called a B meson, which is made up of a light quark and a heavy beauty antiquark. (Quarks and antiquarks have the most flamboyant names in the world of particles.) Basically, this quark-antiquark mix means the B meson has a short lifespan, and the angles and frequencies under which it decays have very precise definitions according to the standard model of physics. The only problem? The B meson won't cooperate.
A discrepancy was first detected last year, when scientists noticed that the B meson wasn't decaying at the predicted rate. This was a fishy result, but hardly damning. A number of things could cause this discrepancy without calling into question the standard model itself.
But now, a nail in the proverbial coffin: Polish scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider have not only corroborated that the B meson decays at the "wrong" rate, but they have also shown that it decays at a funky angle, too.
These are not small, insignificant errors. The standard model makes precise predictions. If these new results are correct, it means that there must be a fundamental flaw in how we think about physics.
"Up to now all measurements match the predictions of the standard model," said lead researcher Mariusz Witek of the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. "However, we know that the standard model cannot explain all the features of the Universe. It doesn’t predict the masses of particles or tell us why fermions are organized in three families. How did the dominance of matter over antimatter in the universe come about? What is dark matter? Those questions remain unanswered."
These various gaps in the standard model have earned it the nickname of the "theory of almost everything." But due to the model's immense success in explaining a wide variety of experimental results, these gaps are often shrugged off as evidence that the model is merely incomplete. The importance of the B meson discrepancy is worth reiterating: If corroborated, this is not just a mere gap in the standard model; it's a gaping hole.
Of course, before blowing up a theory as powerful as the standard model, physicists need to be absolutely certain. The Polish researchers are very clear that while these results are alarming, more data is needed to say for sure that the observations being made are real. So the standard model is far from dead.
Even so, it's exciting to think that even in the world of particle physics — a world that relies on the most precise of measurements — there may be a whole new frontier awaiting us, a frontier with strange new particles exhibiting even stranger new behavior.