According to a recent report featured on NBC News, there’s something strange happening in the universe that is making humanity’s most cutting-edge physics experiments contradict one another.
A major particle physics laboratory claims to have discovered definitive proof of a particle that is not supposed to exist. In the 1990s the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND), an experiment at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, found evidence of a mysterious new particle. Coined a “sterile neutrino,” it seemed to pass through matter without interacting with it; hence it also becomes known as the “ghost particle” for its seeming ability to pass through matter as supposed ghosts could walk through walls.
But after years of dedicated searches, scientists have been unable to replicate the results obtained by LSND, and other experiments couldn’t find any trace of the elusive particle. So the result was set aside, and two camps firmly set up in physics — those that believe that sterile neutrinos are real and those who say they do not exist.
Now, MiniBooNE — a follow-up experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), located near Chicago — has picked up the hidden particle’s scent again. A new paper put out by Fermilab offers compelling enough evidence of the missing neutrino that scoffers have sat up and taken notice of, even as other experiments continue to suggest sterile neutrinos don’t exist at all.
What Does This All Mean to Particle Physics?
So what does this all mean to particle physics and our fundamental understanding of the universe? If MiniBooNE’s results can be confirmed, it could transform the foundations of particle physics. It could also help solve cosmic mysteries like the existence of dark matter – an unidentified substance that makes up roughly 27 percent of the universe. Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the world. As waves of neutrinos pass through space, they will periodically “oscillate” — switching back and forth between one “flavor” and another.
Physicists have already identified three “flavors” of neutrino: muon, electron, and tau – but in recent decades, several scientists have hypothesized about the presence of a fourth type of particle, the “sterile neutrino.”
Discovering an additional form of neutrino could help to explain the mysterious origins of dark matter and could provide evidence for some more esoteric theories such as the existence of parallel universes.
Speaking to the journal LiveScience, Kate Scholberg, a particle physicist at Duke University, said, “That would be huge; that’s beyond the standard model; that would require new particles … and an all-new analytical framework.”
Like the LSND experiment before it, the Fermilab experiments found more neutrino detections than are possible to explain with the Standard Model’s description of neutrino oscillation, and therefore concluded that those must be the results of sterile neutrinos.
However, other famous particle physics labs such as the Large Hadron Collider and the IceCube Neutrino Observatory that are looking into the fundamental building blocks of the universe, and searching for evidence of things such as dark matter and parallel universes, have failed to replicate the experiments.
So, the scientific community is not yet ready to rewrite the textbooks, and for now, the so-called “ghost particle” remains as elusive and mysterious as the paranormal phenomena for which it is named.