Researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have announced the ‘possible discovery’ of a previously unknown subatomic particle that, if confirmed, could unlock the secrets of dark matter. The discovery would represent a fifth force of nature in the form of a mysterious new particle. Theoretical physicists at UCI now believe the particle, initially theorized by a team of Hungarian researchers last year, could be a newly discovered light particle that adds a fifth component to the four known forces of nature, or even a “grander, more fundamental force” when combined with one of the existing forces.
A previous study by experimental nuclear physicists at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences identified an “excess of events” suggesting the existence of a new light particle 30 times heavier than an electron. At the time, there wasn’t enough evidence to explain whether it was a particle capable of transferring force, or simply a matter particle. It wasn’t until the UCI team of theoretical physicists got ahold of the study that discussions about a possible fifth force of nature began to surface.
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“If true, it’s revolutionary,” said Jonathan Feng, UCI professor of physics & astronomy. “For decades, we’ve known of four fundamental forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. If confirmed by further experiments, this discovery of a possible fifth force would completely change our understanding of the universe, with consequences for the unification of forces and dark matter.”
Instead of being a dark photon, like the Hungarian experimentalists theorized, UCI physicists suggest the particle may be a “protophobic X boson.” Analysis co-author Timothy Tait, professor of physics & astronomy, said, “There’s no other boson that we’ve observed that has this same characteristic. Sometimes we also just call it the ‘X boson,’ where ‘X’ means unknown.”
The findings were recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
+ Physical Review Letters
Images via ESA/Hubble & NASA and MTA-Atomki