China Just Discovered an Entirely New Form of Matter by Accident

Friday, 01 December 2017 - 11:38AM
Solar System
Science News
Friday, 01 December 2017 - 11:38AM
China Just Discovered an Entirely New Form of Matter by Accident
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Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons
By now it's pretty safe to say that there's a lot we don't understand about the universe.

Sometimes, a scientific attempt to uncover one mystery only ends up turning up more and more questions, as is the case with an ongoing Chinese study that's been trying desperately to learn more about dark matter, and how it works.

Thus far, for reasons nobody can explain, the numbers from this experiment don't quite add up. In their search for dark matter, scientists may have accidentally discovered something entirely different instead.

Dark matter is a fairly straightforward if abstract concept within astrophysics. Not all matter exists in a form that our puny human eyes are capable of perceiving, and thus, while nobody has ever actually seen dark matter, we're able to record its gravitational effects.

In order to spot the mysterious invisible stuff, you need a special sensor. China's DAMPE satellite, which was launched in 2015, exists for exactly that purpose, measuring cosmic rays for evidence of particles that might once have been dark matter before it decayed into a visible form.

In measuring these particles, scientists have spotted the presence of some form of particle that doesn't match anything we've seen before. The particle measures at around 1.4 TeV (teraelectron volts), a measurement that's used to spot what kinds of elemental particles might be present in a cosmic radiation cloud.

This is very exciting—scientists had predicted that there'd be 61 different elements represented in these clouds of cosmic debris, but this particle brings that number up to 62, and there's no indication of what it might be.

It certainly isn't dark matter itself—that can't be seen on the TeV spectrum at all, because it's invisible—but it could well be a completely new type of matter that hasn't been encountered before.

According to Chang Jin, chief scientist of DAMPE:

Opening quote
"The spike might indicate that there exists a kind of unknown particle with a mass of about 1.4 TeV. All the 61 elementary particles predicted by the standard model of particle physics have been found. Dark matter particles are beyond the list. So if we find a new elementary particle, it will be a breakthrough in physics. Even if they were from pulsars, it would be quite a strange astrophysical phenomenon that nobody had known before."
Closing quote

Thus far it looks like the scientists are well on their way to one of those fantastic serendipitous discoveries that come as a complete surprise but instantly change our understanding of the universe.

The scientists are also able to continue their research into dark matter, meaning that DAMPE may manage to provide two breakthroughs for the price of one, which is always nice.

It just goes to show that sometimes, all it takes to make an incredible discovery is to be in the right place at the right time to spot something weird (even if that place happens to be 310 miles above the surface of the Earth).

When that happens, the best strategy is just to stamp your name all over your discovery, and pretend you meant to do it.
Solar System
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China Just Discovered an Entirely New Form of Matter