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Possible new particle from LHC has physicists cautiously excited

For now it’s just a couple of errant signals, but the physics community is beginning to get excited about the possibility that a series of observations from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) last December will turn out to be evidence of a whole new area of physics. The signals indicate a new particle that, if real, exists completely outside the expectation of the Standard Model of Physics — you know, the model that the LHC itself helped to finally confirm just four years ago? It’s possible that with their massive particle collider, Eruope’s CERN will first prove the Standard Model, then destroy it soon after.

The signals in question showed incredibly energetic, and thus heavy, spikes in the data. These spikes, seen independently by two of the LHC’s instruments, came in at an astounding 750 giga electron-volts (GeV); that’s as opposed to the Higgs Boson’s relatively measly 125 GeV, and the for-now-record-holding top quark, at 172 GeV. This is unexpected, to say the least, but since the anomaly was seen in more than one place it’s being treated as a mystery in need of a solution.

The specifics of this mystery particle can’t even be speculated at this point, but whatever its behavior ended up being, it would unquestionably behave very differently than the components of the Standard Model. Extreme speculation about its identity will naturally include anything the Standard Model currently struggles to explain — most notably, dark matter. Even the Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) of dark matter aren’t expected to get to the 750 GeV-range however, so the theoretical basis for this discovery is shaky at best.

One notable thing about these readings is the CERN physicists weren’t actually looking for them. Usually, in pre-LHC modes of research, particles like this were mostly found by predicting a specific reading and then building a rig capable of search for that reading. Now, between the LHC’s often unnecessarily high collision energies and its prodigious ability to crunch the numbers from these impacts, it can find significant amounts of evidence in the masses of data that just so happen to pop out of unrelated experiments. CERN is more capable of the just-try-it-and-watch-what-happens school of theoretical physics than any other body before it.

That means the LHC is the instrument most likely to produce facts totally outside of expectation — because expectations aren’t necessary for every observation to be a success. It’s an ability that should only get more pronounced as a wider and more diverse facility prepares to re-open after significant upgrades to its maximum collision energies. Will it find a graviton, or perhaps a wholly new particle never imagined before? Either is a possibility.

We should bear in mind it’s completely possible that further LHC collisions will invalidate the reading and explode the idea of a particle in that range; since the particle wasn’t expected, its observation isn’t seen as definitive. Scientists will have to analyze the readings and come up with a number of possible explanations — including simple equipment failure — and test them with further work.

Still, to an extent the LHC is expected to produce these sorts of results. Its new, upgraded maximum energy is a whopping 13 tera electron-volts (TeV), which will allow collisions never seen, or indeed imagined, before. We should take this potential new particle as the tenuous possibility that it is — but in the long term, it’s a foregone conclusion that investigating the universe at all new energies will reveal something about that universe to an all new extent.

Now read: How does the Large Hadron Collider work?

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