Why Discovering a New Particle Would Be Such a Huge Deal

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

When physicists at the Large Hadron Collider announced the detection of a possible, unexpected new particle last December, we advised caution, since most such hints go away when more data comes in. We won’t know for sure until this summer whether it’s real, or just random noise in the data masquerading as a signal. While we’re waiting, physicist David Kaplan lays out all the science for you in a new video for Quanta.

It’s promising that the telltale signature of this possible particle has been seen in two different detectors—maintained by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations, respectively. Physicists have now wrung out all the information they can from that data run, and the results remain inconclusive. Most such hints vanish when more data is added to the mix. Then again, the much-lauded discovery of the Higgs boson four years ago also started out as a barely statistically significant bump in the data. In that case, adding more data made the signal stronger.

That’s how LHC scientists will know if this latest bump is real: they just started a new data run this month and should present those results this August at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Chicago. Depending on who you ask, physicists are placing the odds of this being the real deal between 20 percent to 50 percent and possibly as high as 85 percent—a pretty broad spread.

But if the hint holds up, it will mark the first unexpected discovery at the LHC. As Kaplan says in the video, “To see something totally random is incredibly exciting. That’s when the fun begins.”