The final nail in the coffin for the Standard Model of particle physics might be coming from under the Antarctic ice. While a series of new discoveries have challenged our understanding of physics, recently astrophysicists revealed they had detected a mysterious ultra-high-energy particle in Antarctica; according to the researchers, any possible explanation of these particles defies the Standard Model of astrophysics.
The Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) floats above Antarctica on a NASA balloon and detects cosmic particles that manage to pass through the Earth. Since 2016, three bursts of particles caught the ANITA researchers by surprise. They all looked like ultra-high-energy neutrinos, but they couldn’t be. While low-energy neutrinos can pass through the Earth with ease, ultra-high-energy neutrinos shouldn’t be able to—according to our current understanding of physics.
According to a new paper, the last remaining Standard Model explanation for these mysterious articles has some serious flaws. The explanation revolves around cosmic neutrino accelerators: big, violent cosmic objects like the stars at the centers of galaxies that could accelerate neutrinos and other particles fast enough to push them through our planet. According to Anastasia Barbano, a University of Geneva physicist, either the mysterious particles are coming from cosmic accelerators, or from some unknown source here on Earth. The problem is, however, that if there were a big group of neutrino guns blasting particles through Antarctica, they wouldn’t only be shooting ultra-high-energy neutrinos. There should be a whole bunch of other particles along with them. But they’re not there.
According to the recent paper, the team looked at seven years of data and attempted to find cosmic accelerator sources that matched the angle and length of the mysterious particles detected in Antarctica. No potential cosmic accelerators matching those parameters were found.
The results don’t completely exclude the cosmic accelerator explanation, but they do “severely constrain” it. Right now the data the researchers have is very limited, and they’re not sure which way they should go with it. With many of the plausible explanations seemingly rendered impossible (along with many of the less plausible ones too), all remaining explanations are “revolutionary”—they just don’t know which revolutionary explanation is the right one.
Anastasia Barbano, a University of Geneva physicist, says that what they’re trying to say is that, whatever it is, it’s a big deal:
“The message we want to convey to the public is that a Standard Model astrophysical explanation does not work no matter how you slice it.”
According to Barbano, the team will have to wait until the next generation of neutrino detectors are online before they can attempt to unravel the mystery any further. So yeah, our physics is all broken. We just don’t know how yet.