New Finding: Protons 4% Smaller than Previously Measured

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Mefiante (July 08, 2010, 11:49:55 AM):
The finding means that either the theory governing how light and matter interact (called quantum electrodynamics, or QED) must be revised, or that a constant used in many fundamental calculations is wrong, the researchers said.

If the new value is confirmed, it could mean some rewriting of basic physics is in order.

Peter Grant (July 08, 2010, 13:01:58 PM):
Exciting stuff. ;D
Brian (July 08, 2010, 13:17:16 PM):
what astounds me as a total layman, is that 4% of something so infinitesimally small can have what seems to be a significant impact ???
Mefiante (July 08, 2010, 15:05:16 PM):
As a point of order, a proton isn’t strictly speaking infinitesimally small.

It has to do with the so-called “cross-section” of particles. This quantity describes the probabilistic target area that a particle presents to the world when it interacts physically with others. Remember that atomic and subatomic particles are not distinct objects in the same way that we usually think about, say, a marble; instead, they are fuzzily smeared out in spacetime around a focus point where the probability of finding it is at a maximum.

If the reported results are borne out by independent verification, then many other measured and calculated results that depend immediately on the proton’s cross-section (and there are a great many of them) will be in error by at least that 4% margin. Moreover, because it is a systematic error, the cumulative knock-on effect of those second-tier errors into yet other results is that the errors will tend to grow more and more rapidly until the errors exceed the values of the results, at which juncture the latter become effectively meaningless. A billiard ball analogy helps illustrate the point: it’s not too hard to play the cue ball so that it knocks another ball directly into a pocket. It is much harder to play the cue ball onto another ball so that the second ball then knocks a third one into a pocket. Even harder is doing this with a fourth ball. The difficulty increases exponentially with the number of balls involved in such a chain because any error in despatching the cue ball, however slight, is amplified at each successive collision in the chain.

Assuming that the reported result is correct, it may even be that the accuracy issues discussed above are a lesser concern. If it cannot be reconciled with existing theory, the finding may lead to the discovery of a presently unknown flaw in the Standard Model, and thence precipitate a slew of new revelations concerning the natural world. It may well be the beginnings of the shakeup modern physics has been looking for since at least thirty years ago.

That, in a nutshell, is potentially what’s at stake.

Teleological (July 08, 2010, 15:21:22 PM):
Interesting. Let's hope they got the mass of these one right as well :o.
Physicists unlock mystery of subatomic particle

Interesting how particles morph from one type to another. Do you think it is possible that electrons can also morph into other particles say... muons?


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