#Space #Universe – New study suggests we might have spotted a fifth force of nature : As far as we know, there are four fundamental forces that hold our Universe together – gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. But, in April last year, physicists in Hungary saw evidence of a possible fifth force of nature, one that could potentially explain some of the lingering mysteries in our Universe, such as dark matter.
Now an independent team of researchers has re-analysed the results, confirming that the anomaly seen in the data last year really could be a whole new fundamental force. This idea is still a long way off being confirmed – as we learnt from CERN’s latest announcement, sometimes promising blips in the data end up disappearing with further testing – but the study suggests that this possible new force-carrying particle is definitely worth following up on.
“If true, it’s revolutionary,” said lead researcher Jonathan Feng from the University of California, Irvine. “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.”
So, a quick back story here: the strange result in question was first seen last year, when a team from the Hungarian Academy of Science fired high-energy beams of protons at lithium-7, and in the fall-out spotted the energy signature of a new super-light subatomic particle.
This new subatomic particle, they concluded, was a type of boson that was only 30 times heavier than an electron, and wasn’t predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics – the best set of equations we have for understanding the Universe.
According to the Standard Model, each of the four fundamental forces has a corresponding boson – the strong force is carried by ‘gluons’; the electromagnetic force is carried by particles of light, or photons; and the W and Z bosons are responsible for weak force.
We haven’t yet discovered gravity’s boson (that’s just one of the gaps in the Standard Model, which also doesn’t explain dark matter) but it’s predicted to be something called the graviton.
The Hungarian team initially suggested that maybe their blip had been some kind of dark photon – a hypothetical particle responsible for carrying dark matter – but since their initial publication, international researchers have taken their data and run with it.