This discovery contradicts one of the most important and successful theories of modern physics.
Near Chicago, USA, a group of scientists discovered that the mass of a subatomic particle is not what it should be.
This measurement is the first conclusive experimental result that goes against the famous Standard Model theory, which has been used for years to determine the approximate mass of subatomic particles.
The team found that one of these particles, known as the W boson, weighs more than the theory predicts.
The result was described as “shocking” by Professor David Toback, co-spokesperson for the project, as it could lead to the development of a new, more comprehensive theory of how the universe works.
“If the results are verified by other experiments, the world will look different”, says the academic to the BBC, who even envisages “a paradigm shift”.
“Famous astronomer Carl Sagan said ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’ We think we have it,” he added.
What was the conclusion?
Scientists at the Fermilab Collider Detector (FCD) in Illinois have discovered a tiny difference in the mass of the W boson from what the theory says it should be: it is only 0.1% .
If this is confirmed by other experiments, the implications would be enormous.
For fifty years, the standard model of particle physics has predicted the behavior and properties of subatomic particles without the slightest anomaly.
The other FCD spokesman, Professor Georgio Chiarelli, told the BBC the research team found it hard to believe their eyes when they got the results.
“No one expected this. We thought we might have been mistaken.”
But the researchers reviewed their results and tried to find any errors.
They didn’t find any.
This discovery, published in the journal Science, could be linked to clues from other experiments carried out at Fermilab and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located on the Franco-Swiss border.
These unconfirmed results also suggest deviations from the Standard Model, possibly due to a fifth force of nature that has yet to be discovered.
Physicists have known for some time that the theory needs updating.
His postulates cannot explain the presence of invisible matter in space called dark matter, nor the continued accelerated expansion of the universe by a force called dark energy.
Nor can they explain gravity.
Mitesh Patel, an Imperial College London expert who works at the LHC, believes that if Fermilab’s result is confirmed, it could be the first in a long line that would herald the biggest change in our understanding of the universe since Einstein’s theories of relativity 100 years ago.
“The hope is that ultimately we will see a dramatic discovery that not only confirms that the Standard Model has broken down as a description of nature, but also gives us a new direction to help us understand what we are,” he said.
“If this is confirmed, new particles and new forces will have to be found to explain how to make this data coherent,” he added.
Precautions to take
But the enthusiasm of the physics community is tempered when previous experiments are reviewed.
Although the Fermilab result is the most accurate measurement of the W boson’s mass to date, it does not match two other of the most accurate measurements obtained in previous experiments that conform to the Standard Model.
“We need to know what’s going on with the measurement,” says Professor Ben Allanach, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge.
“The fact that two other experiments agree with each other and with the Standard Model disagree with this experiment worries me,” he adds.
All eyes are now on the Large Hadron Collider, which is due to restart its experiments after a three-year upgrade.
The hope is that these studies will provide the results that will lay the groundwork for a new, more comprehensive theory of physics.
“Most scientists will be a bit cautious,” says Patel.
“We’ve been there before and been disappointed, but we all secretly hope that this is really the case and that we will see in our lifetime the kind of transformation we hear about in the history books,” says- he.