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Universe Today

LHC spots exotic particles — and starts hunting for more

Physicists say they’ve found evidence in data from Europe’s Large Hadron Collider for three never-before-seen combinations of quarks, just as the world’s largest particle-smasher is beginning a new round of high-energy experiments.

The three exotic types of particles — which include two four-quark combinations, known as tetraquarks, plus a five-quark unit called a pentaquark — are totally consistent with the Standard Model, the decades-old theory that describes the structure of atoms.

In contrast, scientists hope that the LHC’s current run will turn up evidence of physics that goes beyond the Standard Model to explain the nature of mysterious phenomena such as dark matter. Such evidence could point to new arrays of subatomic particles, or even extra dimensions in our universe.

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Universe Today

Large Hadron Collider restarts at record energy levels

Europe’s Large Hadron Collider has started up its proton beams again at unprecedented energy levels after going through a three-year shutdown for maintenance and upgrades.

It only took a couple of days of tweaking for the pilot streams of protons to reach a record energy level of 6.8 tera electronvolts, or TeV. That exceeds the previous record of 6.5 TeV, which was set by the LHC in 2015 at the start of the particle collider’s second run.

The new level comes “very close to the design energy of the LHC, which is 7 TeV,” Jörg Wenninger, head of the LHC beam operation section and LHC machine coordinator at CERN, said today in a video announcing the milestone.

When the collider at the French-Swiss border resumes honest-to-goodness science operations, probably within a few months, the international LHC team plans to address mysteries that could send theories of physics in new directions.

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Cosmic Science

Could a bulky boson point to new physics? Stay tuned

A decade ago, physicists wondered whether the discovery of the Higgs boson at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider would point to a new frontier beyond the Standard Model of subatomic particles. So far, that’s not been the case — but a new measurement of a different kind of boson at a different particle collider might do the trick.

That’s the upshot of fresh findings from the Collider Detector at Fermilab, or CDF, one of the main experiments that made use of the Tevatron particle collider at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab in Illinois. It’s not yet time to throw out the physics textbooks, but scientists around the world are scratching their heads over the CDF team’s newly reported value for the mass of the W boson.

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Cosmic Science

Muon mystery, MindPong and a lost city revealed

Egyptian archaeologists unearth a 3,000-year-old lost city, magnetic readings from muons could lead to new physics, and Elon Musk’s Neuralink venture has monkeys playing video games with neural impulses. Get the details on the Web:

‘Lost Golden City’ found in Luxor

Egypt’s best-known archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, announced today that the long-lost ruins of a 3,000-year-old city have been found in Luxor. The sprawling settlement dates to the reign of Amenhotep III and his son, Akhenaten. Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities says it continued to be used by Tutankhamun and his successor, King Ay.

The city was at one time called “The Rise of Aten,” reflecting the religious shift brought about by Akhenaten. Today it’s being called the “Lost Golden City.” During the past seven months of excavation, several neighborhoods have been uncovered, but the administrative and residential district hasn’t yet been brought forth from the sands. “The discovery of this lost city is the second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun,” said Betsy Bryan, an Egyptologist at Johns Hopkins University.

Previously: ‘Lost cities’ teach lessons for future cities

Muon anomaly sparks deep questions

Anomalous results from a Fermilab experiment have added to the suspicion that scientists have finally found a flaw in one of their most successful theories, the Standard Model of particle physics. The anomalies have to do with the strength of the magnetic field for a weightier cousin of the electron, known as the muon. Data from Fermilab’s Muon g-2 experiment supported previous findings from Brookhaven National Laboratory that the muon’s magnetism is ever-so-slightly stronger than predicted by the Standard Model — just 2.5 parts per billion stronger.

If the results hold up, physicists might have to consider far-out explanations — for example, the existence of scads of particles that haven’t yet been detected, or a totally new take on the foundations of physics. But the findings will require further confirmation. Grand discoveries, like 2012’s detection of the Higgs boson, typically have to be confirmed to a confidence level of 5-sigma. Now the muon findings have hit 4.2-sigma — which doubters would say is still substandard.

Previously: Could the God Equation be our ultimate salvation?

Elon Musk touts mind control

Neuralink, the brain-implant venture funded by tech billionaire Elon Musk, is showing off an AI system that lets a macaque monkey play a game of Pong with its mind alone. Researchers monitored the monkey’s neural impulses as it operated a joystick to play the game, and then correlated the firing patterns of the neurons with the gameplay. Eventually, the brain-monitoring system eliminated the need for the monkey to use the joystick at all.

In a Twitter exchange, Musk said human trials of the mind-reading system would begin, “hopefully, later this year.” He said Neuralink’s first brain-implant product would enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs. “Later versions will be able to shunt signals from Neuralinks in brain to Neuralinks in body motor/sensory neuron clusters, thus enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again,” Musk tweeted.

Previously: ‘Three Little Pigs’ demonstrate Neuralink’s brain implant

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GeekWire

What happens to Higgs bosons? Here’s a clue

Higgs boson decay
A diagram shows a proton-proton collision in the Large Hadron Collider’s ATLAS detector that produced a Higgs boson, which quickly decayed into two bottom quarks (bb, shown as blue cones). The collision also produced a W boson that decayed into a muon (μ) and a neutrino (ν). (ATLAS / CERN Graphic)

It’s been six years since physicists at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, but they’re just now confirming what most of the mysterious subatomic particles do when they decay.

They’re transformed into bottom quarks, they announced today.

That’s not exactly a surprise: The mainstream theory of particle physics, known as the Standard Model, suggests that’s the most common course followed by the Higgs, which exists in the particle collider for only an instant before breaking down. About 60 percent of the Higgs bosons created in high-energy are thought to turn into a pair of bottom quarks, which is No. 2 on the mass scale for six “flavors” of quarks.

It took several years for researchers to nail down the evidence to a standard significance of 5-sigma — the same standard that applied to the Higgs boson’s discovery in 2012.

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GeekWire

Electron ion collider gets thumbs up from experts

report from the National Academies endorses the idea of building a large-scale electron ion collider to probe the next level of subatomic mysteries. Such a collider would smash electrons into beams of protons or heavier ions — in contrast with the Large Hadron Collider, which smashes protons together.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

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GeekWire

Physicists add top-quark twist to Higgs boson’s tale

Experiments at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider have produced hard-to-come-by evidence of interactions between the Higgs boson and top quarks. The findings, announced today at a conference in Bologna, Italy, “give a strong indication that the Higgs boson has a key role in the large value of the top quark mass,” Karl Jakobs, spokesperson for the LHC’s ATLAS collaboration, said in a news release.

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GeekWire

Study could point to piece in antimatter puzzle

Experiment cryostat
Researchers work on the delicate wiring of a cryostat, which chills the germanium detectors at the heart of the Majorana Demonstrator experiment. (Sanford Underground Research Facility Photo / Matthew Kapust)

An experiment conducted deep underground in an old South Dakota gold mine has given scientists hope that a future detector could help solve one of physics’ biggest puzzles: why the universe exists at all.

Put another way, the puzzle has to do with the fact that the universe is dominated by matter.

That may seem self-evident, but it’s not what’s predicted by Standard Model of particle physics as currently understood. Instead, current theory suggests that the big bang should have given rise to equal parts of matter and antimatter, which would annihilate each other within an instant.

Scientists suspect that there must have been something about the big bang that gave matter an edge more than 13 billion years ago. So far, the mechanism hasn’t been identified — but one leading theory proposes that the properties of neutrinos have something to do with it.

The problem is, neutrinos interact so weakly with other particles that it’s hard to detect what they’re doing. The experiment conducted in the nearly mile-deep Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota was aimed at figuring out whether a detector could be shielded well enough from background radiation to spot the effect that scientists are looking for.

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GeekWire

Physicists detect Big Void in Egypt’s Great Pyramid

Pyramid cutaway
A cutaway view of the Pyramid of Khufu shows the location of the “Big Void” as well as a corridor close to the pyramid’s north face. Click on the image for a larger view. (ScanPyramids Illustration)

An international team of researchers has detected a mysterious, previously unknown void deep inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid that may be as large as an art gallery space.

The anomalous space, known as the ScanPyramids Big Void, showed up on imagery produced by tracking concentrations of subatomic particles called muons as they zoomed through the pyramid’s stones.

“We don’t know if this Big Void is made by one structure, or several successive structures,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, president of the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute and co-founder of the ScanPyramids campaign. “What we are sure about is that this Big Void is there, that it is impressive [and] that it was not expected, as far as I know, by any kind of theory.”

Tayoubi and his colleagues report the discovery in a paper published online today by the journal Nature.

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Collider gets set to take on antimatter mystery

Image: Belle II detector
Scientists and technicians insert one of the optical components into the iTOP particle identification detector at the SuperKEKB accelerator in Japan. The “Imaging Time of Propagation” apparatus, or iTOP, is part of SuperKEKB’s Belle II detector. (Credit: PNNL)

What happened to all the antimatter? A particle-smasher in Japan is well on its way to addressing that question and others on the frontier of physics.

The SuperKEKB accelerator is designed to smash together tightly focused beams of electrons and anti-electrons (better known as positrons) and track the subatomic particles that wink in and out of existence as a result.

The collider will follow up on an earlier round of experiments at the KEK laboratory in Tsukuba. Over the past five years, KEK’s 1.9-mile-round (3-kilometer-round) underground ring has been upgraded to produce collisions at a rate 40 times higher than the earlier KEKB experiments did. Europe’s Large Hadron Collider may smash protons together at higher energies, but SuperKEKB will trump the LHC when it comes to the “Intensity Frontier.”

On Feb. 10, scientists circulated a beam of positrons around the SuperKEKB ring at nearly the speed of light. Then, on Feb. 26, they sent a separate beam of electrons at similar velocities, but going in the opposite direction. These “first turns” serve as major milestones on the way to next year’s first physics run, when both beams will circulate simultaneously and smash into each other in SuperKEKB’s upgraded Belle II detector.

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