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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

Omicron cases confirmed in 3 U.S. states

A healthcare worker inserts a Covid-19 rapid test into a machine in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Daniel Brenner/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The third confirmed U.S. case of the newly-discovered Omicron variant was detected in a Colorado resident, state health officials said Thursday.

The latest: In addition to Colorado, the variant has been confirmed in California, and Minnesota.

Early winter heat shatters records in U.S., Canada

Temperature departures from average on Dec. 2, 2021, as depicted by the GFS computer model. (Weatherbell.com)

A widespread and intense heatwave is roasting large portions of the U.S. and Canada, shattering daily and monthly temperature records.

Why it matters: Winter is the fastest-warming season across the U.S., and the lingering warmth is shortening the snow season in places like Colorado and Montana, where mountain snowpack is a critical source of water during the summer months.

4 hours ago - Science

COVID time warp

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic seems like a lifetime ago to some, and just yesterday to others. Scientists are beginning to unpack the way people processed the passage of time amidst the stress, uncertainty and isolation of the 1 year, 8 months and 21 days since WHO declared a pandemic.

Why it matters: The pandemic's global effects on how people experience time could provide new insights into the brain's ability to perceive and predict time — a fundamental feature of life.