Around the world, there’s several super colliders that are peering into the depths of the atomic and quantum world, and most of the time, money and effort right now is going into looking for the Higgs boson that may be key in further understanding or changing the current Standard Model of physics, but new data from the Tevatron super collider suggests the presence of a new particle, but it’s not the Higgs.
It seems that it’s the season for Tevatron data analysis, as a set of papers is doing the rounds based on the full set of data from its most recent run (another run, its last, is in progress that will apparently double the total data). In March came word that there was an odd asymmetry in the production of top quarks that could be explained by a number of particles that have been limited to the realm of theory. Now there’s been a paper that suggests the data might contain hints of the decay of something that nobody had predicted, a particle with a mass of about 144GeV that doesn’t behave the way theorists predict the Higgs should.
The new work is described in a paper that has been placed on the arXiv preprint server; it has been submitted for peer review and publication, but hasn’t passed these hurdles yet. The work builds on an earlier paper in which the data from the CDF detector was scanned to look for the production of the particles that carry the weak force, the W and Z bosons.
These are sometimes produced in pairs during the collisions, but neither of them live very long before decaying. As a result, the particles themselves don’t reach the detectors; instead, their decay products do. But it is possible to trace the path of these more stable products back to their point of origin, and sum up all the energy they carry in order to figure out when they originated from the decay as a single particle, and how much that particle must weigh.
Right now as I’m writing this, I’m watching an episode of NOVA about the search for the Higgs boson, and it asks the question: Why has American science become less popular since the end of the Cold War and why have the number of American scientists dropped since then? The sad answer is that while things like developing the atom bomb or landing on the moon is visible and sexy, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to look for a subatomic particle seems to many to be insignificant.
But it’s anything but. Whether we discover the Higgs or something else, it’s a huge stepping stone to either further understanding the Standard Model or revising it drastically and building the kinds of super futuristic technologies that will define the world of our great-great-grandchildren.