The four forces of physics are known to be gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force. But now Hungarian scientists at the Institute for Nuclear Research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Atomki) have possibly found a fifth. The breakthrough came while watching an excited helium atom emit light as it decayed. The 115-degree angle at which the particles split could not be explained by the current “standard model” of particle physics.
The particle, named X17 due to its mass of 17 megaelectronvolts, has now been detected twice. Atomki lead scientist Attila Krasznahorkay stated in an email to CNN that “X17 could be a particle, which connects our visible world with the dark matter.”
The same Hungarian team had written on similar findings back in 2016 in Physical Review Letters; they had discovered the same anomalies while studying an excited nucleus of a beryllium atom. Many leading physicists have since tried – unsuccessfully – to disprove their work, believing the results may have been due to some experimental or equipment error. With these new findings, however, it now appears more likely that Atomki’s work proves the existence of a fifth force. Jonathan Feng, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California at Irvine, thinks it could be the ultimate “game changer” and a “no-brainer Nobel” for Krasznahorkay and his colleagues.
The work is most exciting because it takes scientists closer to the possibility of what Einstein had conceived of, but never achieved: a unified field theory.