The LHC beauty (LHCb) — one of the experiments observing particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider — has found a discrepancy that, if it holds up, could imply the existence of never-before-seen particles.
These observations happen from time to time, and a lot are the result of statistical flukes. However, the recent findings come in the wake of another hint observed a few years ago that has not gone away. This suggests the discovery may be significant.
LHCb is a building-sized detector that sits around one of the intersecting points of the Large Hadron Collider. The machine typically measures the properties and decay rates of B mesons, a special combination of two quarks that rapidly decays into other particles.
For the new research, scientists focused on a B meson known as “the Bo” that breaks down into a particle called the koan, as well as either a pair of electrons or a pair of muons. Normally, Bos decay into equal amounts of muons and electrons. However, the recently observed Bos broke down into muons much less often than predicted. Scientists believe this change could have only occurred if the molecules were affected by new types of particles.
The results were only significant to 2.2 to 2.5 standard deviations, which means there is not enough evidence to prove a new discovery. Normally, researchers need 5 sigmas — or a 1 in 3.7 million chance of a difference happening at random — to prove statistical significance. Three years ago, LHCb observed a similar anomaly while looking at decays in a B meson known as B+ with a 2.6 sigma significance.
“The fact that we find this discrepancy with limited statistical significance is tantalizing,” said Vincenzo Vagnoni, the physics coordinator of the LHCb, according to Gizmodo. “It adds into a framework of anomalies that we have been observing for some years in this sector. Even if the significance isn’t yet at the discovery, this is important in itself.”
If the signals do turn out to hint at real discoveries, it may suggest the existence of new particles that do not act like electrons or protons. Rather, they would be virtual particles that only pop into existence for a moment before fading away.
Researchers are excited about the new possibilities but will remain cautious until something more can be found. Scientists plan to continue studying the new anomaly in hopes of either proving or denying the new particle within the next six months.
“More data and more observations of similar decays are needed in order to clarify whether these hints are just a statistical fluctuation or the first signs for new particles that would extend and complete the Standard Model of particles physics,” said the European Organization for Nuclear Research, according to Wired.