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The Muon g-2 ring, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. Photo: Reidar Hahn/Fermilab, via U.S. Department of Energy

The results of high-energy physics experiments released on Wednesday open the possibility that a tiny subatomic particle called a muon may act in ways that break the known laws of physics.

The big picture: The experimental work — while still far from conclusive — underscores the fact that science still has much to learn about the fundamental workings of the universe, and it points the way toward further breakthroughs.

Driving the news: In a news conference and virtual seminar on Wednesday, as well as a set of papers published the same day, scientists announced the first results of the Muon g-2 experiments being carried out at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab.

  • Muons are subatomic particles similar to electrons but possess 207 times as much mass — hence the rather unflattering nickname "fat electrons."
  • The particles — which have puzzled scientists since they were first discovered in 1936 — are produced in large amounts during collider experiments at places like Fermilab that involve smashing particles together at high speeds.

What they found: When the muons were sent through intense magnetic fields at Fermilab's Muon g-2 ring, they behaved in ways that didn't quite line up with theoretical predictions, wobbling more than expected.

  • Anytime nature throws us a curveball, scientists take notice, and the fact that the Fermilab experiments lined up with similar work at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 2001, which has long puzzled researchers, is notable.
  • The experiments suggest the Standard Model — physics' fundamental theory about how particles interact with each other — may be far from complete.

The catch: The scientists behind the experiments reported that the results had a 1 in 40,000 chance of being a fluke — pretty good, but still short of the certainty required to claim an official discovery in physics.

The bottom line: Wednesday's results represent just 6% of the data ultimately expected to come from the Fermilab muon experiments in the years to come, which means plenty more time for new revelations — and plenty more work for high-energy particle physicists.

Go deeper

Exclusive: Texas nonprofit got massive border contract after hiring Biden official

Migrants attempting to enter the United States from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Photo: David Peinado/Xinhua via Getty Images

A Texas nonprofit that recently hired a Biden transition official got a contract worth as much as $530 million to help manage the influx of migrant children at the southern border, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The contract is by far the largest ever awarded to Family Endeavors. It's potentially worth more than 12 times the group's most recently reported annual budget — a sign of the demand the new work will place on its operations.

5 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: $1 million ad buy defends Georgia law to business critics

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A leading conservative group is targeting the business community with a seven-figure ad buy on CNBC and local TV defending Georgia's new voting law from its corporate critics, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: By focusing on the C-suite through a network it watches, Heritage Action for America is offering a rejoinder to some companies — even Major League Baseball — after they waded so prominently into politics.

Advocates, Democrats plan to push major pot reform

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Advocates and lawmakers favoring marijuana reform are trying to capitalize on the social justice movement and COVID-19 economic rebound to legalize and normalize the use of pot.

Why it matters: The supporters are also trying to take advantage of polls showing broad public support — and get ahead of the reality Democrats could lose their control of Congress after the midterm elections next year.