Possible Fifth Force Of Nature Found

Over the years, humans have come up with four forces that can be used to describe every single interaction in the physical world. They are gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force that causes particle decay, and the strong nuclear force that binds quarks into atoms. Together, these have become the standard model of particle physics. But the existence of dark matter makes this model seem incomplete. Surely there must be another force (or forces) that explain both its existence and the reason for its darkness.

Image via Business Insider

Hungarian scientists from the Atomki Nuclear Research Institute led by Professor Attila Krasznahorkay believe they have found evidence of a fifth force of nature. While monitoring an excited helium atom’s decay, they observed it emitting light, which is not unusual. What is unusual is that the particles split at a precise angle of 115 degrees, as though they were knocked off course by an invisible force.

The scientists dubbed this particle X17, because they calculated its mass at 17 megaelectronvolts (MeV). One electron Volt describes the kinetic energy gained by a single electron as it moves from zero volts to a potential of one volt, and so a megaelectronvolt is equal to the energy gained when an electron moves from zero volts to one million volts.

What Are Those First Four, Again?

Let’s start with the easy one, gravity. It gives objects weight, and keeps things more or less glued in place on Earth. Though gravity is a relatively weak force, it dominates on a large scale and holds entire galaxies together. Gravity helps us work and have fun. Without gravity, there would be no water towers, hydroelectric power plants, or roller coasters.

Lightning via Wikimedia Commons

The electromagnetic force is a two-headed beast that dominates at the human scale. Almost everything we are and do is underpinned by this force that surrounds us like an ethereal soup. Electricity and magnetism are considered a dual force because they work on the same principle — that opposite forces attract and like forces repel.

This force holds atoms together and makes electronics possible. It’s also responsible for visible light itself. Each fundamental force has a carrier particle, and for electromagnetism, that particle is the photon. What we think of as visible light is the result of photons carrying electrostatic force between electrons and protons.

The weak and strong nuclear forces aren’t as easy to grasp because they operate at the subatomic level. The weak nuclear force is responsible for beta decay, where a neutron can turn into a proton plus an electron and anti-neutrino, which is one type of radioactive decay. Weak interactions explain how particles can change by changing the quarks inside them.

The strong nuclear force is the strongest force in nature, but it only dominates at the atomic scale. Imagine a nucleus with multiple protons. All those protons are positively charged, so why don’t they repel each other and rip the nucleus apart? The strong nuclear force is about 130x stronger than the electromagnetic force, so when protons are close enough together, it will dominate. The strong nuclear force holds both the nucleus together as well as the nucleons themselves.

The Force of Change

Suspicion of a fifth force has been around for a while. Atomki researchers observed a similar effect in 2015 when they studied the light emitted during the decay of a beryllium-8 isotope. As it decayed, the constituent electrons and positrons consistently repelled each other at another strange angle — exactly 140 degrees. They dubbed it a “protophobic” force, as in a force that’s afraid of protons. Labs around the world made repeated attempts to prove the discovery a fluke or a mistake, but they all produced the same results as Atomki.

Professor Attila Krasznahorkay and his team published their observations in late October, though the paper has yet to be peer-reviewed. Now, the plan at Atomki is to observe other atoms’ decay. If they can find a third atom that exhibits this strange behavior, we may have to take the standard model back to the drawing board to accommodate this development.

So what happens if science concludes that the X17 particle is evidence of a fifth force of nature? We don’t really know for sure. It might offer clues into dark matter, and it might bring us closer to a unified field theory. We’re at the edge of known science here, so feel free to speculate wildly in the comments.

Main image via Index

46 thoughts on “Possible Fifth Force Of Nature Found

      1. From the linked article:

        “Part of the skepticism arises because the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, tried to hunt for the X17 particle and failed to find any evidence of it. In light of the new evidence, many more groups will likely continue to search for the particle, Milner told Live Science. ”

        It also states that independent measurements have not been made.

        1. The original anomoly, and theorized particle to explain it, is from 2016
          https://arxiv.org/abs/1604.07411

          The article linked above you are reading is the first experimental detection, where the quote you copied is taken from this 2018 paper
          https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.120.231802

          The second observation was this year, october 2019
          https://arxiv.org/abs/1910.10459

          I don’t know why LiveScience is quoting such out of date information and publishing it so recently, but there it is.

          1. Also, the LiveScience has always been problematic. It is riddled with garbage ads (and other malicious scripts). I would recommend navigating to another source.

    1. At high enough energies they are unified, yes. They’re still often talked about as separate forces because they behave as separate forces at low energies.

      It is thought that at even higher energies, all the forces in the Standard Model would unify into a single force, but this is currently unproven. Even if this was proved, we’d probably still continue to refer to them separately because most physics doesn’t happen at a high enough energy for the forces to be unified.

      1. Got me wondering if like in chemistry, from a chemist’s perspective who dropped out of the energy stuff in the engineering program to just do the science with hitgay groupies on who knows what, there is a range of states of matter that most of us are familiar with, i.e. plasma, gas, liquid and solid.

        However, at more than our planets Standard Temperature and Pressure (STP) range there are actually more than the typical three or (or as I noted and many of us know) four states of matter. Maybe there is something more that can be elaborated on with the states of matter graphical representation of the quantitative known range of matter many of us are familiar with.

        This has me wondering…, on top of the history of intellectual thinking being rather knew to us Homo’s since the advance of our traits, acts and events with mathematical observations of the mass and energy identified, qualified and quantified phenomena has been beyond the God Pan’s traits and idol worshiptry rituals outside of the caves or whatever huts and in public…, if the standard model behaves differently reliably in different states of matter known.

        Guessing since this expertise is developing so intensely Moore’s Law like in the last no way 1000 years… more like 100 years…, there is more to be observed and described accurately than who ever that physicist was that thought that everything has been found and proved in physics back in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s whenever that was.

        Not sure the practical application yet… though guessing with the nuclear physicists stuff… like they thought outside of mutual assured destruction use of mass and energy they were getting funded to research and produce that the nuclear physicist know how can be used to harness the energy in safer, cleaner, more economical and even sold to the masses as “free” can be a goal.

  1. Let’s leave the realm of reduction science and consider dark matter as a fluid not as a force. This assumption will then explain what we have been able to calculate in our reality. A particle in a fluid will have consistent characteristics at it’s natural equilibrium but if that equilibrium is disturbed by a change in energy the particle will behave in a manor consistent with it’s nature in the fluid. For example a projectile acts differently in water, air and a vacuum, but it’s behavior is consistent and reproducible in each. So if dark matter is considered a fluid the behavior should resemble air, water etc. This behavior should exhibit an increasing resistance to change as the velocity increases up to a break point at which time previously weak forces become the dominant influence in particle behavior
    just my $0.02

  2. “This force holds atoms together and makes electronics possible.” should be
    “This force holds molecules together and makes electronics possible.”
    Electromagnetism tries to tear atoms apart.
    Unless you mean it binds the electrons to atomic cores. Which it does. But it is sort of an awkward way to put it when discussing the forces.

    Also: People REALLY need to stop using “dark matter” to refer to A thing. Instead of SOME possible GROUP of things/observations.

    “dark matter” is the term used to describe ‘The stuff, or group of different stuffs, that isn’t matter, but causes us to observe behavior we can’t understand when we only take matter into account’.

    It is not a ‘thing’ like ‘peanut butter’. It is a category, like ‘things that make Jim angry’.

    1. “Also: People REALLY need to stop using “dark matter”…”

      Thank you. Dark matter, dark energy, the multiverse… I can’t stand it when science popularizers turn speculation into absolute realities.

        1. Dark matter doesn’t belong in the same category as time travel and FTL. Those are impossible things that remain popular because they make for interesting sci-fi.

          Observations solidly support that there is a lot of stuff in the universe that has mass but doesn’t emit light. Nobody knows for sure what it is, but *something* is there. Yes, yes, “it could be modified gravity” – everyone’s thought of that but nobody has come up with a modified gravity theory that matches observations.

          So for now we call it dark matter because that’s the two things we know about it – it’s dark, and it’s matter.

          1. Dark matter is just to make their math work.

            That usually means it will cease to exist once they fix their math.

            I thought that new uncertainty of the speed of expansion of the universe threw the whole dark matter invention into question anyway.

          2. No, it’s not just to make their math work. There are also a lot of seperate observations that imply the existence of dark matter – it’s not just galaxies spinning too fast anymore. Even if it was, “It makes the math work” has led to a massive number of physical discoveries, from neptune to the higgs boson.

            Also no, you’re thinking of dark energy. Dark matter has nothing special to do with the speed of expansion of the universe.

            With all due respect, if you can’t keep dark matter and dark energy straight, you aren’t qualified to opine on whether or not dark matter is a real thing. Let the astrophysicists do their job and just see what they come up with.

          3. I over simplified. By math I was referring to the Theories that are always backed by MATH.

            From space.com

            (Referring to the conflicting measurements of the Hubble Constant.)
            Wendy Freedman, a professor of cosmology at the University of Chicago and lead author of the new study.
            “This new evidence suggests that the jury is still out on whether there is an immediate and compelling reason to believe that there is something fundamentally flawed in our current model of the universe,” Freedman said.

            “Naturally, questions arise as to whether the discrepancy is coming from some aspect that astronomers don’t yet understand about the stars we’re measuring, or whether our cosmological model of the universe is still incomplete,” Freedman said. “Or maybe both need to be improved upon.”

            https://www.space.com/hubble-constant-measurement-universe-expansion-mystery.html

            I don’t need to know or care about the difference between dark matter and energy to form the opinion that applying “DARK” to something makes its existence questionable. I am seizing on the common opinion that Astrophysics is always being updated and improved, as any theoretical science should be.

  3. Is it really so unexpected? If the same radioactive decay produces gamma ray photon of always same energy (wavelength), then, if it decays into electron-positron pair, will it not endow them with always the same rest kinetic energy, therefore with same speed? The repulsion force between the two will always be the same, and their trajectories will diverge from each other at angle which will be the more sharp the more fast the particles initially are.

      1. Greetings Dr. Crenshaw,

        I am not certain of certainty; and I have never ascertained a meaning for reality. (and the wife-unit says that I do not speak English). So what does the physics community say to this?

        Still have all of my Embedded Systems magazines. Miss your stuff. You are/were a bright light for us lowly and plodding Joe Sixpack engineers.

        Abuse the Farce. Live long and phosphor. Man your torpedoes. Full speed astern. etc.

        R/S,
        Brian

  4. nobody nowhere mentions what would be the “normal” angle those partcles fly apart. is it a small difference or big…why would that angle be always the same…lot od unexplained stuff for the noobs like me

    1. This is solidly in I don’t know what I’m talking about territory, but the impression I get is that it’s specifically because there is a statistically significant relationship between the emission angle of the two particles that’s interesting. If they were just shooting out at all angles you could probably conclude they were unrelated singular emissions, but if they’re shooting out and hitting discriminators at the same time, at a consistent angle, with a consistent energy, they’re probably the result of a particle decay.

  5. Maybe the space is some sort of network with tiny dimensions? Something that the string theory suggests. Maybe it is not a new force, but an interaction with these dimensions. And why not? If we have Quantization of the space and particles, maybe there is some sort of tiny mesh, that we exist on :)

  6. While working at a university maintaining laboratory devices the physics dept caused a campus wide stir when they all suddenly “got religion.” Spooky action at a distance and the unified theory were cited as the reasons. There is even a PBS Nova program on the exact subject that was broadcast 15 or so years later.

    We don’t have a clue, just evidence there is something more…

  7. “Each fundamental force has a carrier particle” – maybe it was the gravity particle. Whatever that is.

    I don’t know enough about this stuff to provide informed input. But if you ask, I’ll make something up, like with dark matter (“space repels mass” and the repulsion prevents galaxies spinning apart)

    1. One can variously translate that as…

      * That’s the quantised packets that the force comes in.
      * That’s the pitch of the checkerboard that the dice rolling fates/gods are using for this game.
      * That’s the digitisation error of the simulation.

  8. ‘Speculate wildly’? M’kay. The primal forces affect all parallel universes to some extent. What we call ‘Dark Matter’ is the ‘shadow’ of the matter in the other universes affecting our matter gravitationally. The varying levels come from the fact that matter isn’t distributed evenly in the various universes. #changemymind

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