Although it has long been acknowledged that there are four “fundamental forces” that govern nature and everything in it, attempts have continuously been made to catch a glimpse of a hypothesised fifth one – and now this might really have been done.

Scientists at Hungary’s Atomki Nuclear Research Institute have expressed a belief that they may have stumbled upon hard evidence of a previously unknown natural force – a very special particle, described as a “protophobic X boson”. It is thought to be able to carry a force that acts over microscopic distances not much greater than that of an atomic nucleus, Attila Krasznahorkay’s team writes in arXiv, where the research has been published, but has yet to be peer-reviewed.

The so-called “protophobic X boson” has been formally named X17, as its mass is estimated to not exceed 17 megaelectronvolts.

The researcher and his colleagues first reported some curious findings in 2015 after studying the light emitted during the radioactive decay of the unstable isotope beryllium-8, something which has attracted a great deal of attention since the construction of the first particle accelerator in Cambridge.

The latter led the scientists to believe that the instant when atoms decay, excess energy among their constituent parts briefly creates a new particle, which then shortly splits into a well-known positron and electron pair.

If the unique particle’s existence is ultimately ascertained, scientists will have to reassess the interactions of the known four forces of particles, thereby paving the way for studies of a potential fifth one.


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