Lately, the internet has been awash with stories about the Standard Model of Particle Physics having been broken.
These stories arise from a recent experiment conducted by physicists at the Fermilab in Illinois, where a group of scientists discovered that muons "twerk." Well, sort of. Don't worry if don't know what a muon is, you'll find out in a moment, and if you don't know what twerking is, try googling Miley Cyrus.
Muons are electrically charged particles, which means that when they're placed within a magnetic field, they start to spin. Their frequency of rotation is determined by the muon's interactions with other particles and forces – this is called its g-factor.
Just like the Earth wobbles on its axis as it rotates so too does the spin axis of a muon also wobble. Twenty years ago, scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory first measured the g-factor and wobble of muons, and they came up with values that didn't match predictions made by the Standard Model. Brookhaven's data came in at 3-sigma, or three standard deviations.
Last week, Fermilab's G-2 experiment, which is still ongoing, concluded that the muons zipping around their magnetized ring wobbled more originally theorized. The group's findings rose to the level of 4.2-sigma, which is very close to the magic 5-sigma which corresponds to a 1-in-3.5 million chance that the data is a statistical fluke. Physicists consider 5-sigma to be irrefutable evidence of a discovery.
The question then is: "What is giving the muons that extra push that causes them to wobble?" One explanation is that they are being shoved by virtual particles that pop into and out of existence due to quantum fluctuations.
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