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Neutrons shouldn’t be all that mysterious. Found inside every atomic nucleus, they may seem downright mundane—but they have long confounded physicists who try to measure how long these particles can live outside of atoms. For more than 10 years researchers have tried two types of experiments that have yielded conflicting results. Scientists have struggled to explain the discrepancy, but a new proposal suggests the culprit may be one of the biggest mysteries of all: dark matter.

Scientists are pretty sure the universe contains more matter than the stuff we can see, and their best guess is that it takes the form of invisible particles. What if neutrons are decaying into these invisible particles? This idea, put forward by University of California, San Diego, physicists Bartosz Fornal and Benjamin Grinstein in a paper posted this month to the physics preprint site arXiv.org, would explain why one type of neutron experiment consistently measures a different value than the other. If true, it could also provide the first way to access the dark matter particles physicists have long been seeking to no avail.

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Category: Science