Preliminary results from two experiments suggest something could be wrong with the basic way physicists think the universe works, a prospect that has the field of particle physics both baffled and thrilled. The tiniest particles aren't quite doing what is expected of them when spun around two different long-running experiments in the United States and Europe. The confounding results—if proven right—reveal major problems with the rulebook physicists use to describe and understand how the universe works at the subatomic level. The United States Energy Department's Fermilab announced results Wednesday of 8.2 billion races along a track outside Chicago that have physicists astir, the AP reports. The magnetic field around a fleeting subatomic particle is not what the half-century-old Standard Model of physics says it should be.
This follows new results published last month from CERN's Large Hadron Collider that found a surprising proportion of particles in the aftermath of high-speed collisions. The Fermilab experiment sends strange, fleeting particles called muons, which are like electrons but much heavier, around a magnetized track—and preliminary results suggest that the magnetic "spin" of the muons is 0.1% off what the Standard Model predicts, more than enough to upend current understanding. Physicists say the best explanation is that the particle is being influenced by unknown forms of matter and energy, the New York Times reports. "New particles, new physics might be just beyond our research," says Wayne State University particle physicist Alexey Petrov. "It’s tantalizing." Physicists say it will take another year of analyzing the results before the discovery—and the first crack in the Standard Model—can be confirmed. (Read more particle physics stories.)