It may soon be time to drastically rewrite the physics books. For decades, students have been taught that there are four fundamental forces of nature:
• The weak nuclear force
• The strong nuclear force
• The electromagnetic force
• The force of gravity
The first three are included in the Standard Model of particle physics, while the final one is included in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Scientists have invested countless hours trying to uncover how these various forces fit together and affect one another, with the pursuit of a thorough understanding of the forces leading to numerous discoveries and theories that are widely accept today.
Now, a new theory has emerged that has startling potential ramifications–it’s possible that there is a fifth fundamental force of nature in the universe that has been overlooked. What is now being studied as potential evidence of a fifth force of nature was originally thought to be proof of dark matter, which is believed to comprise roughly 85 percent of our universe. The theory was set forth by a team of nuclear physicists based at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Nuclear Research.
While researching radioactive decay, the team stumbled upon what they thought was a light particle that had 30 times the weight of an electron. The team assumed they were looking at dark photons and published a paper on the subject in 2015.
The paper did not get much attention, but earlier this year, Jonathan Feng, a professor of astronomy and physics at the University of California, Irvine, found it and became intrigued. He and his team took the data collected by the Hungarian scientists and analyzed it along with their own data, as well as that gathered through other studies.
After careful study, Feng and his team concluded that what the Hungarians had observed was not a dark photon, but in fact a subatomic particle being created. This particle is being referred to as prorophobic X boson by the team at the University of California Irvine.
The subatomic particle in question is unique in that it does not interact with protons like others. Instead, it is only capable of interacting with neutrons and electrons, and when it does, it only does so over a very small range.
More research is needed, but if it is confirmed that this subatomic particle does exist, it would mean that there is likely a fifth force of nature. Feng thinks it is possible that the force could be tied together with the other three forces of the Standard Model of particle physics to finally uncover a greater fundamental force at work in the universe.
Feng believes that the new force could also help scientists finally validate the theory of dark matter and understand what its true nature is so that we can finally learn more about the universe in which we live. For now, it is too soon for any of this to be more than speculation and wishful thinking, but it certainly does raise some exciting possibilities, and as Feng explains:
“If confirmed by further experiments, this discovery of a possible fifth force would completely change our understanding of the universe, with consequences for the unification of forces and dark matter.”