Post by Minna Krejci
Then March brought a lightning storm that damaged one of the magnets that guide particles on their 4-mile circular path around the accelerator, taking away more than a week of the machine’s precious remaining operating time.
Come April, and the (narrowly avoided) government shutdown threatened to interfere even further.
So how has the Tevatron responded to all of this negativity that’s come about in 2011? Certainly not by rolling over and playing dead: in the past few weeks, we’ve heard two reports of results from the Tevatron that may suggest the emergence of new physics. The most recent findings are hinting at the existence of a new elementary particle, or even a new force in nature.
How big of a deal is this? From the New York Times:
“Nobody knows what this is,” said Christopher Hill, a theorist at Fermilab who was not part of the team. “If it is real, it would be the most significant discovery in physics in half a century.”
Sounds like a big deal, although it does look like there’s still some work to be done to verify these results. Unfortunately, time is ticking away for the Tevatron.
From the same New York Times story:
Joe Lykken, a Fermilab particle theorist, said Dr. Punzi’s group would have four times as much data in an analysis later this year. “This would be enough to claim a definitive major discovery,” he wrote in an e-mail, “just as the Tevatron — and perhaps Fermilab itself — is being shut down for budget savings.”
Crazy timing, right?
The co-spokesman of the project, Rob Roser, addresses this (as reported on Nature’s blog):
Roser says he’s aware that, because of the Tevatron program is going to be shutdown this year, there will be some skeptics outside the 700-strong collaboration but that those inside have given the analysis a careful check before releasing it. “You always run the risk that people think you’re grandstanding when funding is at risk but we’re not. We’re trying to put this out in a responsible way. It’s hard to convince 700 people.”
But that’s not all Roser said (from ScienceNOW):
“I’m kind of surprised that [The New York Times] wrote about it; it must have been a slow news day,” says Robert Roser, co-spokesperson for the 500-member team working with the CDF particle detector at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, which made the observation. Still, he says, it’s possible that the scientists have seen a new particle.
So what do the results really mean, and how significant are they actually? (And is anyone else wondering what happened to 200 members of the research team?) Maybe this will all become a bit more clear as the buzz dies down and more data is (hopefully) acquired.
I suggest exercising some degree of caution before jumping to any conclusions at this point — rumors about monumental discoveries in particle physics (such as the Higgs boson, the ‘God particle’) have a tendency to get blown out of proportion before they can be confirmed.
A rough analogy could be two freight trains colliding head-on. Out of the resulting fire and carnage, dozens of cars spontaneously form, spraying out from the wreckage.
In this fantasy collision, the trains are the protons and antiprotons, and the cars could represent post-collision particles detected in the Tevatron, most of which are common and expected to be created (Fords, Chevvys, Hondas). However, a very small number are not predicted and are considered “exotic” (a Ferrari here, a Lamborghini there). Suddenly, we’re very interested in the exotic cars.
Ferrari particles – I like it.