Particle decay discovery breakthrough by CERN physicists

14 November 2012
By David Spencer
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The Large Hadron Collider

Pushing the boundaries of science and superlatives

Scientists working at CERN have announced that they have spotted a particle reshaping into two others in their Large Hadron Collider. This announcement is said to be a breakthrough that could be crucial in exploring physics frontiers once seen as the realm of science fiction.

The mutation – in a process known as “decay” – was a prediction of the so-called Standard Model (SM) of physics, which describes how the universe works at the most fundamental level, a theory that until now scientists had never seen.

The discovery, announced during a conference presentation, will improve efforts to discover evidence for super symmetry, dubbed SUSY, a theory explaining cosmic mysteries, and for other "New Physics" ideas beyond the SM's confines, CERN experts said.

The LHC, which become operational at the research centre in early 2010, confirms the model as its initial target, but the ultimate goal is to push beyond this into new realms only so-far envisaged by theorists.

US physicist and CERN-watcher Matt Strassler said in a blog post: "The detailed implications of this latest result will take a while to work through, but one thing is easy to state: the Standard Model has survived another test."

A decay of the type recorded by CERN's LHCb experiment was foreseen under the model, developed in the second half of the 20th Century. This experiment is where a Bs meson particle was transformed after a collision in the LHC into a muon and an anti-muon.

Scientists had been trying to spot the decay for well over a decade. This decay was correctly predicted to happen to one Bs meson in every 300 million in the arithmetically-intense world of particle physics.

At the Geneva Research Centre's CMS experiment, Oliver Buchmueller claimed that although the nature of the decay narrowed the energy range where SUSY traces might be found, it also left plenty of room for these to turn up later.

Buchmueller elaborated that: "This is another piece in the puzzle and with it the world appears even more SM-like," he said. "It supports SUSY, because that is the only theory that can include the Standard Model in a wider concept of New Physics."

The SUSY theory, which hypothesises the existence of unseen heavy "super-partners" to all known particles, is controversial in the physics community. Some physicists are expressing doubts about it as an explanation of cosmic oddities such as the strange speed of rotation of galaxies.

Sceptics have, on occasion, pronounced the theory as a dead-end. This new discovery, however, means it will find its place in New Physics, a realm once deemed to be science-fiction-like constructs, such as dark matter, dark energy, string theory and extra dimensions.

CERN hopes that some of these and other unspecified concepts might move from theory into fact come late 2014 as it doubles the power of the LHC, which currently runs 27km (16.8 miles) in a circle under the Swiss-French border.

The decay development comes after the CERN announcement in July this year of the sighting in the LHC of a new particle. This discovery is said to be the Higgs Boson, a key building bloc of nature that gives mass to matter, but this has yet to be determined.

After three decades of searching and using different colliders, the discovery of decay puts the last major missing element into the Standard Model. This was drawn up by scientists on the basis of what was known and seemed likely about the universe.

The decay reported in Japan, at a Kyoto gathering of particle physicists, was discovered in the same assumed manner as the Higgs, from light-speed collisions in the LHC that recreate the primeval disorder that followed the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago.

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