A new paper suggests that the mysterious X17 subatomic particle is indicative of a fifth force of nature.
Researchers at Hungary’s Atomki Nuclear Research Institute have expressed a belief that they may have stumbled upon hard evidence of a previously unknown natural force – a very special particle, described as a “protophobic X boson”. It is thought to be able to carry a force that acts over microscopic distances not much greater than that of an atomic nucleus, Attila Krasznahorkay’s team writes in arXiv, where the research has been published, but has yet to be peer-reviewed.
The so-called “protophobic X boson” has been formally named X17, as its mass is estimated to not exceed 17 megaelectronvolts.
The scientist and his colleagues first reported some curious findings in 2015 after studying the light emitted during the radioactive decay of the unstable isotope beryllium-8, something which has attracted a great deal of attention since the construction of the first particle accelerator in Cambridge.
It was concluded back then that when protons were fired at the isotope lithium-7, which builds beryllium-8, the subsequent decay of the particles did not produce exactly the expected light emissions, but rather a “bump” sound.
The latter led the researchers to believe that the instant when atoms decay, excess energy among their constituent parts briefly creates a new particle, which then shortly splits into a well-known positron and electron pair.
If the unique particle’s existence is ultimately ascertained, scientists will have to reassess the interactions of the known four forces of particles, thereby paving the way for studies of a potential fifth one.
As the study team put it in their paper, they are expecting “independent experimental results to come for the X17 particle” in the years to come.