What are the four fundamental forces of nature? Let’s see, there’s gravity … electromagnetism … umm … volcanoes? A woman scorned? Cross out the last two and fill in strong nuclear and weak nuclear. Then get ready to add a fifth. A lab in Hungary reports it may have discovered a previously unknown fifth force of nature. Money?
Particle physicists have long suspected the existence of a fifth force of nature because the other four don’t explain dark matter, which makes up 80% of the mass of the Universe. Attila Krasznahorkay, a researcher at the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Institute for Nuclear Research in Debrecen, was looking for this force in rumored “dark photons” – photons that have mass but can only be detected after decaying into electrons and positrons (the antimatter counterparts of electrons).
In January 2016, Krasznahorkay published a paper announcing he had found a dark photon by firing protons at lithium-7, which created unstable beryllium-8 nuclei that then decayed into pairs of electrons and positrons. The particle’s mass was 17 megaelectronvolts (MeV), earning it the name 17-MeV. For particle physicists, that would be enough for a eureka moment and a beer. Unfortunately, the report received little publicity at the time.
Fortunately, a group of theoretical physicists at the University of California, Irvine, took a closer look at the research and determined that what Krasznahorkay may have discovered was not a dark proton but a “protophobic X boson.” If that sounds familiar, it’s a fundamental particle like photons and the recently-discovered Higgs boson – the so-called God particle.
While the protophobic boson has no deity connections, it’s still a big deal. This boson, if it truly exists, couples electrons and neutrons to form a new energy force that Krasznahorkay found but considered to be an anomaly. In April 2016, the UC Irvine team published their findings and called it the fifth fundamental force.
Of course, this is particle physics so there’s bound to be skeptics. The Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia is conducting a DarkLight experiment to search for dark photons with masses of 10–100 MeV. It’s the perfect place to attempt to recreate Krasznahorkay’s work on 17-MeV. CERN, home of Higgs boson, will also be conducting studies, as will labs in Rome and Russia.
One of them is bound to conclusively prove the existence of the fifth force of nature.
Would that make a woman scorned the SIXTH force of nature?