The search for magnetic monopoles, the truest north

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The hunt for the truest north

Many theories predict the existence of magnetic monopoles, but experiments have yet to see them

For Symmetry Magazine:

If you chop a magnet in half, you end up with two smaller magnets. Both the original and the new magnets have “north” and “south” poles.

But what if single north and south poles exist, just like positive and negative electric charges? These hypothetical beasts, known as “magnetic monopoles,” are an important prediction in several theories.

Like an electron, a magnetic monopole would be a fundamental particle. Nobody has seen one yet, but many—maybe even most—physicists would say monopoles probably exist. (Read the rest at Symmetry Magazine…)

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The GUTsy effort to unify the quantum forces

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A GUT feeling about physics

Scientists want to connect the fundamental forces of nature in one Grand Unified Theory

For Symmetry Magazine:

The 1970s were a heady time in particle physics. New accelerators in the United States and Europe turned up unexpected particles that theorists tried to explain, and theorists in turn predicted new particles for experiments to hunt. The result was the Standard Model of particles and interactions, a theory that is essentially a catalog of the fundamental bits of matter and the forces governing them.

While that Standard Model is a very good description of the subatomic world, some important aspects—such as particle masses—come out of experiments rather than theory.

“If you write down the Standard Model, quite frankly it’s a mess,” says John Ellis, a particle physicist at King’s College London. “You’ve got a whole bunch of parameters, and they all look arbitrary. You can’t convince me that’s the final theory!” [Read the rest at Symmetry Magazine…]

Why are neutrino masses so tiny?

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Neutrinos on a seesaw

A possible explanation for the lightness of neutrinos could help answer some big questions about the universe.

For Symmetry Magazine:

Mass is a fundamental property of matter, but there’s still a lot about it we don’t understand—especially when it comes to the strangely tiny masses of neutrinos.

An idea called the seesaw mechanism proposes a way to explain the masses of these curious particles. If shown to be correct, it could help us understand a great deal about the nature of fundamental forces and—maybe—why there’s more matter than antimatter in the universe today. [Read the rest at Symmetry Magazine….]

Of GUTs, glory, and the death of a proton

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Do protons decay?

Is it possible that these fundamental building blocks of atoms have a finite lifetime?

For Symmetry Magazine:

The stuff of daily existence is made of atoms, and all those atoms are made of the same three things: electrons, protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are very similar particles in most respects. They’re made of the same quarks, which are even smaller particles, and they have almost exactly the same mass. Yet neutrons appear to be different from protons in an important way: They aren’t stable. A neutron outside of an atomic nucleus decays in a matter of minutes into other particles.

What about protons?

A free proton is a pretty common sight in the cosmos. Much of the ordinary matter (as opposed to dark matter) in galaxies and beyond comes in the form of hydrogen plasma, a hot gas made of unattached protons and electrons. If protons were as unstable as neutrons, that plasma would eventually vanish.

But that isn’t happening. Protons—whether inside atoms or drifting free in space—appear to be remarkably stable. We’ve never seen one decay.

However, nothing essential in physics forbids a proton from decaying. In fact, a stable proton would be exceptional in the world of particle physics, and several theories demand that protons decay.

If protons are not immortal, what happens to them when they die, and what does that mean for the stability of atoms? [Read the rest at Symmetry…]