CERN (The French acronym for the European Center for Nuclear Research) scientists have reinforced the theory of how one particularly rare subatomic particle decays into something else.  It’s a discovery of evidence that adds certainty to our thinking about how the universe began and keeps running.  For getting the energy out of E=MC2, the standard model has to be nailed accurately and much more completely.

CERN announced last Friday it had measured the decay time of a particle known as a Bs (B sub s) meson into two other fundamental particles called muons, which are much heavier than but similar to electrons.  While not photographed as such, the observation comes as part of the reams of data coming from CERN’s $10 billion Large Hadron Collider.  The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest atom smasher located on the Swiss-French border near Geneva, Switzerland.

Image of a Bs particle decaying into muon particles.  Click image for the largest view.

Image of a Bs particle decaying into muon particles. Click image for the largest view.

The sighting, described by Pierluigi Campana, who leads one of the two main teams at CERN involved in the research shows that the so-called standard model of particle physics is “coming through with flying colors”.  The only catch is the standard model describes only about 5% of the universe.

The standard model is a theory developed over the past half century to explain the basic building blocks of matter.  The CERN research results confirm the development of the standard model.

Researchers have been looking for this particular rare decay from the Bs particle for a long time.

Joe Incandela, leader of the second CERN team involved in the subatomic particle research said, “This is a process that particle physicists have been trying to find for 25 years. (It’s a) rare process involving a particle with a mass that is roughly 1,000 times smaller than the masses of the heaviest particles we are searching for now.”

The standard model also predicted a new subatomic particle, the long-sought Higgs boson, discovered last summer. The Higgs boson creates what scientists call a “sticky” energy field that acts as a drag on other particles and gives them mass, without which particles wouldn’t hold together – and there would be no matter.

The new research results show only a few Bs particles per billion decay into pairs of muons, which was along the lines of what was predicted under the standard model. But because the Bs particle’s decay helps confirm an old theory, some scientists also expressed a bit of disappointment they had not found something completely unexpected or new.

The standard model theory applies to everything from galaxies and stars to the parts of the atom, showing how they are thought to have come into being and continue to function.

An international team of scientists working at Japan’s Proton Accelerator Research Complex announced they have documented muon neutrinos transforming into electron neutrinos – a previously unknown third way that neutrinos can spontaneously change identity.  The work applies to the saga of where the antimatter went to.

The devilish neutrinos are subatomic particles that are very hard to detect because they have extremely low mass and rarely interact with matter.

University of California at Irvine physicist Henry Sobel one of the neutrino collaboration leaders explains the breakthrough is a “Big Deal”.  That’s because explaining the matter-antimatter asymmetry in neutrinos may shed light on why everything from tiny forms of life to stars are made of matter, but there is almost no antimatter left in the universe.

The antimatter issue is one of the biggest mysteries of the universe.  The Big Bang in theory should have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter 14 billion years ago.  Where it all went, if it ever formed at all, has been anyone’s guess.

The research is putting a damper of sorts on the antimatter fueled warp drive ideas.

Oh well.  Joel Butler of the United States’ Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago said, “This is a victory for the standard model, but we know the standard model is incomplete, so we keep trying to find things that disagree with it.”

The results are a bit more critical than noted so far.  Theory is becoming more certain, which allows more application of engineering.  The research is notable, but the consequences, the new ideas that will come are now just imagining in the minds of those who understand the theory and have ideas on how to use it.   Those ideas now have a firm basis and a much better chance of success.


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