'No-Brainer Nobel Prize' – Physicists Unlock the Fifth Physical Force
There might be a fifth, previously unknown physical force at play in our universe – and scientists are already calling this discovery "a no-brainer Nobel prize," according to reports from CNN.
It's the continuation of an earlier study that was subject to extreme skepticism when it was published in the peer-reviewed journal Physical Review Letters. In the 2016 paper, a Hungarian-led team of nuclear physicists was studying beryllium-8 when they noticed that strange subatomic particles were flying off the isotope at extreme angles. (An isotope is an atom that has an abnormal number of neutrons.)
They called this particle "X17" due to its calculated mass of 17 megaelectronvolts and introduced it in their paper but, as the study's lead scientist Attila Krasznahorkay explained to CNN, "it could not be understood by the widely accepted 'Standard Model' of particle physics, so it faced scrutiny."
But Jonathan Feng, a physics professor at the University of California in Irvine, was paying attention – and he thought they were onto something. His team put out a paper expanding on these theories, while several "well-known nuclear physicists" set about trying to disprove the Hungarian team's findings. Nobody could do it.
Three years later, Krasznahorkay and his team were analyzing a helium atom when it happened again – particles were shearing off at sharp angles of about 115°. According to Feng, the probability of this being caused by anything else is one-in-a-trillion. Researchers are already contacting him to contribute to future studies in an effort to confirm the existence of X17 or this fifth force.
Although they've named the phenomenon, physicists still don't know what it is or what it does – and all possibilities are on the table. Krasznahorkay speculated to CNN, "X17 could be a particle, which connects our visible world with the dark matter." Feng, meanwhile, points out "There's no reason to stop at the fifth," Feng said. "There could be a sixth, seventh, and eighth force."
Wondering what the four previously known forces of physics are? Here's a quick primer from Seeker: