Hungarian scientists identify potential fifth force of nature

Everything that we currently understand about physics is centered upon the four forces that control the known universe – gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force. However there is now evidence of a potential fifth force.

Scientists at the Institute for Nuclear Research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Atomki) have recently published their findings that could signify that fifth force. The researchers were observing how an excited helium atom emitted light as it decayed. The particles split at the unusual angle of 115 degrees, which couldn’t be explained by known physics.

Attila Krasznahorkay, the study’s lead scientist, said that this was the second time his team had detected a new particle, which they call X17, because they calculated its mass at 17 megaelectronvolts. It is possible that X17 is a particle that connects our visible universe with dark matter.

This recent discovery builds on earlier research by the same team in 2016, when the researchers published a similar paper in Physical Review Letters. The nuclear physics experimental team had been studying another isotope, beryllium-8, as it decays down to a ground state. They saw electrons and positrons splitting off from the atom at unusual angles. Those findings, which showed particles coming off beryllium-8 at around a 140-degree angle, were also unexpected.

Meanwhile, nuclear physicists around the world set to work looking for errors in the Hungarians’ work, and have come up empty-handed over the past few years. The numbers seemed to add up, and no one could find ways their equipment was calibrated incorrectly. Scientists have tentatively referred to this unseen fifth force in action as a “protophobic force,” meaning that it was as though the particles were “afraid of protons.”

Future work still needs to be done on other isotopes to see if the results can be replicated independently. It certainly is an exciting future in physics research!

Read the abstract here



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