It’s called a muon. And on Wednesday, researchers at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory sent shockwaves through the world of particle physics when they found that this unsightly spot of quantum curious existence could illuminate the very fabric of the universe in a way we haven’t seen sincenearly a decade ago.
With their 207 times the size of electrons, magnetic-like muons decay radioactively in 2.2 million seconds, making them unlikely candidates for the discovery of explosive physics, according to the richly told New York Times story on Wednesday. In the Standard Model of Particle Physics, which explains how the elementary particles of the universe interact, we have very rigorous calculations of how muons should move.
But during experiments at the Fermi Laboratory, the researchers noticed that the muons were swaying strangely. So strange that the fluctuations routinely oppose the most specific measurements in the world and contradict the standard model. It seems that they are influenced by what, according to physicists, may be a force beyond what is currently known.
“This amount we are measuring reflects the muon’s interactions with everything else in the universe,” Rene Fatemi, a physicist at the University of Kentucky, said in a statement. “This is strong evidence that the muon is sensitive to something that is not in our best theory.”
In quantum physics, the theory is that particles can suddenly appear and affect an element they interact with before disappearing again. Researchers working on muons say that small variations in muon oscillations can be attributed to the potential host of these “virtual particles”.
Although the findings follow in the footsteps of similar experiments in 2013 and 2018, recent results still require more verification. The researchers note that the chance of the muon swaying to be a statistical case is about one in 40,000 – which in scientific conversations equals a confidence level of “4.1 sigma”. Usually physicists are not satisfied until the confidence level reaches 5 sigma.
In the meantime, however, you can find out more about the mind-boggling muons by looking at the ordinary people explaining Fermilab’s video explanations.