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The Proton Just Got Smaller

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the size-does-matter dept.

Science 289

inflame writes "A new paper published in Nature has said that the proton may be smaller than we previously thought. The article states 'The difference is so infinitesimal that it might defy belief that anyone, even physicists, would care. But the new measurements could mean that there is a gap in existing theories of quantum mechanics. "It's a very serious discrepancy," says Ingo Sick, a physicist at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who has tried to reconcile the finding with four decades of previous measurements. "There is really something seriously wrong someplace."' Would this indicate new physics if proven?"

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Pfft. (0, Offtopic)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32840966)

Obviously, these people never heard of the "Squeezer" from John Varley's Red Thunder [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Pfft. (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841308)

Ah, I enjoyed that one. Didn't know there were sequels. Will have to check them out.

Re:Pfft. (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841490)

I'm still reading through Red Thunder, but the two other books in the trilogy are patiently waiting on my book shelf:-)

If you like John Varley, you should check out Steel Beach. Insane book.

Anonymous Coward. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32840976)

Will this prove previous laws of physics are flawed?

Re:Anonymous Coward. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841088)

It's always flawed as it is only an approximate model of the real world. And as a formal theory physics could never be simultaneously complete and consistent due to Gödel's theorems.

Pluto is not a planet anymore... (3, Funny)

drewhk (1744562) | more than 4 years ago | (#32840984)

... and now this! These scientists have no shame!

Re:Pluto is not a planet anymore... (2, Funny)

KUHurdler (584689) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841544)

Not to worry, just look up. It's right there next to Uranus. You can't miss it.

Re:Pluto is not a planet anymore... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841992)

Hello Billy. This is your homeroom teacher. Stop dinking around on the computer and do your penmanship assignment.

Re:Pluto is not a planet anymore... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32842234)

I love science, but it always seems like I know less than yesterday.

No it didn't. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32840996)

I swear !!

Re:No it didn't. (0, Flamebait)

KUHurdler (584689) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842020)

Re:No it didn't. (1)

pete's-brain (1712936) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842262)

can you believe this guy?

oh well, i'm figuring that he's probably right seeing as science is just a bunch of atheistic dogma anyway...

rawr!

Negative (3, Funny)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841006)

are they saying that the consequences of this information are, dare I say it, negative?

Re:Negative (0)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841022)

That depends...are you positronitive?

Re:Negative (5, Funny)

nadaou (535365) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841090)

two hydrogen pals are sitting on the curb, sipping from their 40s. One says to the other "I think I've lost an electron". The other says "Are you sure"? To which the first replies, "Yeah, I'm positive".

Re:Negative (3, Funny)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841340)

Only on the surface. When you get down to the core, it's actually positive.

Ingo Sick (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841018)

I think I'm going to name all of my children 'Ingo Sick'. What an awesome name.

Re:Ingo Sick (5, Funny)

camnrd (1005865) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841154)

That's actually the writing on paper bags on Algerian Airways.

Re:Ingo Sick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841300)

Thats the funniest thing on /. today. Kudos.

Ummm... (5, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841024)

"'The difference is so infinitesimal that it might defy belief that anyone, even physicists, would care"

Does this sentence bother any one else? Just me?

Re:Ummm... (4, Insightful)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841108)

Most people live in the world of senses, not the gulfs between the stars or in the mathematical models we've scrounged together to explain the eldritch abomination we call "reality". Rewrite it as "The difference is so infinitesmal that it's amazing we've come so far as to care about it." Happy?

Re:Ummm... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841188)

According to the article the difference is 4%. How is that small? I'm not even a physicist and that seems like a pretty huge difference to me.

Re:Ummm... (-1, Offtopic)

compro01 (777531) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841280)

4% of 0.0000000000000000000000000167 grams.

Re:Ummm... (3, Insightful)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841344)

Since when do you measure SIZE in grams?

Re:Ummm... (3, Funny)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841784)

Excellent point. What this means is that when I go out to buy a liter of protons, I'm getting, like, 4% fewer than it says on the label, right?

(Of course, Google wouldn't convert protons to liters, so I have a feeling I'm doing this wrong.)

Re:Ummm... (1)

remmy1978 (307916) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841864)

No... a liter is a liter, no matter what the size of the protons. You're actually getting 4% more protons than you thought, as they're smaller in size and you thus need more of them to get a liter.

Re:Ummm... (3, Funny)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842080)

Thanks, I got mixed up. That means this [chinatopsupplier.com] is 4% more awesome than I thought! Woohoo!

Re:Ummm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32842200)

Since the 1930s [wikipedia.org] . The more uncertainty in momentum (in this case due to mass), the less uncertainty there is in position (a particle's size).

Re:Ummm... (4, Insightful)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841508)

And thus, the reason why the % exists. It allows us to determine if a 1kg change is significant (weight of a bowling ball), insignificant (weight of the earth), of wildly significant (weight of a swallow) by giving a single digit which compares the magnitude of change to the initial value.

In other words, 4% of a value is not an 'infinitesimal' change, even if the values of concern are generally considered to be infinitesimally small. As far as relative change, it is significant enough to care (1/25th).

Re:Ummm... (3, Funny)

Cow Jones (615566) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841714)

...determine if a 1kg change is significant (weight of a bowling ball), insignificant (weight of the earth), of wildly significant (weight of a swallow)...

It could just be the difference between a laden and an unladen swallow.

African or (1)

bjk002 (757977) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842078)

European?

Re:African or (1)

Cow Jones (615566) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842204)

What? I don't know that!

waaaaaaahhrgh...

Re:Ummm... (2, Insightful)

mea37 (1201159) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841532)

"4% of 0.0000000000000000000000000167 grams" is still 4%. On the scale of atoms, it's a huge difference; imposing the scale of day-to-day experience by measuring it in grams is misleading. You then might as well say "the total mass of a proton doesn't matter at all" because it is a very small number of grams; calling it surprising that "even a physicist" wouldn't do that is flatly incorrect.

Once we dismiss the mass of a proton, we might as well dismiss the mass of a neutron (which is similarly a very small number of grams). In that case I'm not sure where exactly we should say the mass of matter is accumulated, though.

Which brings up another point: if the mass of each proton is 4% less, then the mass of all protons combined in a macroscopic lump of matter is 4% less... yet the object weighs the same as it did yesterday. Given the rather wide range of materials we've weighed, I suspect that's a little harder to explain than it sounds.

Re:Ummm... (3, Insightful)

mea37 (1201159) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841606)

...and that's what I get for indulging the speculation of a poster who didn't RTFA, without first reading TFA myself.

It isn't the mass they say is off. It's the size. I stand by my fundamental point though: 4% of a small number is still 4%, and applying human scale to subatomic particles is nonsense.

Re:Ummm... (5, Insightful)

wurp (51446) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841726)

Size is a somewhat ambiguous concept. I *think* what's been discovered to be off by 4% is the radius of the charge distribution. If that's true, then the volume is off by more than 12%.

If the results of this experiment are accurate, it's a Big Deal.

Re:Ummm... (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841528)

"...I believe the Star Wars episode doubled that audience."

"Well, yeah, but double ten people is, like, twenty people, so..."

Re:Ummm... (2, Informative)

painandgreed (692585) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842066)

According to the article the difference is 4%. How is that small? I'm not even a physicist and that seems like a pretty huge difference to me.

It is a significant difference, however, this is Nature magazine and does not usually deal with data or presenting it to scientists but rather the common person. This can be seen by their writing out "0.00000000000003 millimetres" rather than the more usually useful "3*10^-16 m". The people reading their article are not actually intended to make sense out of that number. Rather they are just supposed to see all the zeros and go "Wow, that's really, really small and insignificant." Nature is not actually trying to present data but provide a combination of sensational, yet easily understandable reporting to the layperson who has some interest in science but doesn't really care to use any of it.

Re:Ummm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32842120)

The missing 4% is the anti-proton...

Re:Ummm... (4, Interesting)

smackenzie (912024) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842240)

"Oh, welcome back to Citibank, Mr. Smith. Your portfolio indicates that all of your investments are 4% down, but we think the difference is so infinitesimal small that it might defy belief that you cared."

"Hi Ms. Smith. Your cancer cell growth has increased 4%, but we think the difference is so infinitesimal that it might defy belief that you cared."

"Little Timmy scored an 86.6 (grade B) instead of 90 (grade A), but we think the difference is so infinitesimal small that it might defy belief that he cared."

Re:Ummm... (4, Insightful)

prgrmr (568806) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841580)

It's the author's way of saying he doesn't understand physics, and that he doesn't get why anyone else would.

Re:Ummm... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841742)

As a physicist, yes it most certainly does. Errors above 1% always matter, even if we cannot do anything about them, (for errors below, it depends on expected error ranges). 4% is a big deal to pretty much everybody.

I am wondering what this will do to the standard model/gluon theory?

Re:Ummm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32842256)

Yes. It's clear that the journalist isn't a physicist and probably shouldn't be reporting on that subject matter in general.

That being said, can't say I'm thoroughly surprised that old foundations are being cracked these days. Greater increase in technical effeciency and accuracy gives rise to the refinement of existing ideas. Frankly, with Q.M. theory/model changing almost weekly, it gives me some comfort in knowing there's more to explore. The Universe is now more interesting than it was a moment ago.

Poor Protons (5, Funny)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841074)

Just remember, dear protons:

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is Physics, and a powerful ally it is.

Missed opportunity: (4, Funny)

S77IM (1371931) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841840)

"For my ally is the Strong Nuclear Force, and a powerful ally it is."

"There is really something seriously wrong...." (2, Funny)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841076)

Have they tried re-doing the math in Base 13?

Re:"There is really something seriously wrong...." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841652)

Have they tried re-doing the math in Base 13?

(In base 13 the answer to "What do you get if you multiply 6 by 9?" is 42.)

Re:"There is really something seriously wrong...." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841768)

OK, raise your hand if you've read more than one Douglas Adams novel and you didn't already know this bit.

Re:"There is really something seriously wrong...." (1)

phoenixwade (997892) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841722)

well, then they'd have to cut off an !odd appendage

Previous measurement error? (4, Interesting)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841098)

This paragraph from TFA has the most salient information:

Pohl and his team have a come up with a smaller number by using a cousin of the electron, known as the muon. Muons are about 200 times heavier than electrons, making them more sensitive to the proton's size. To measure the proton radius using the muon, Pohl and his colleagues fired muons from a particle accelerator at a cloud of hydrogen. Hydrogen nuclei each consist of a single proton, orbited by an electron. Sometimes a muon replaces an electron and orbits around a proton. Using lasers, the team measured relevant muonic energy levels with extremely high accuracy and found that the proton was around 4% smaller than previously thought.

4% sure does seem significant. But more interesting is that the measurement is thought to be much more precise because of the method of measurement. Doesn't it seem more likely that it's just not possible to get an accurate measurement with the electron -- like measuring a grape with a yardstick instead of a micrometer?

And of course, there's that stupid cat-in-a-box thing... you can't measure something without affecting it, so maybe muons interact in some strange (lol) way with protons that doesn't happen (or happens differently) with electrons. But as a non-physicist, even throwing those terms out there puts me far outside my league.

Of course, these more prosaic explanations don't lead to nearly as many cool sci-fi plot threads. FTL drive powered by a process that squeezes protons to black hole density, perhaps? That would be awesome. Or, perhaps the expansion of the universe is actually reducing the size of subatomic particles -- so in a few billion years, all matter will simply wink out of existence. Or, there's a time dilation effect as well, so that time drags longer and longer, especially on Mondays.

Re:Previous measurement error? (5, Insightful)

thue (121682) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841314)

> 4% sure does seem significant. But more interesting is that the measurement is thought to be much more precise because of the method of measurement.

No. The interesting thing is that the proton size is now shown to be different than expected from theory. Which means that the theory is wrong. Which is the first step in exciting new physics.

Re:Previous measurement error? (4, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841596)

In other words, it's a "that's funny..." kind of moment.

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny...'"
    -Asimov

Re:Previous measurement error? (1)

mattb112885 (1122739) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841654)

Not necessarily, the original source (doi:10.1038/nature09250) mentions two different possible sources of the error, either the Rydberg constant is off or the theory gives an incorrect prediction. Though they mention both possibilities in the abstract, the authors only mention the former in their conclusions (maybe an oversight, maybe they think that is the actual cause).

Disclaimer: I am not a physicist

Re:Previous measurement error? (1)

Alef (605149) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842002)

Nor am I a physicist, but from what I can understand of Wikipedia, the Rydberg constant is a derived value using quantum mechanics. So if it is off, then some more fundamental constant is off (like the elementary charge or the speed of light), or the theory is wrong.

Re:Previous measurement error? (5, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841766)

Which means that the theory is wrong

At best it means either the theory or the experiment is wrong, and the "wrong" can vary from mundane to really interesting, with the vast weight of probability on the side of mundane.

The structure function of the proton is not simple, and calculating it depends on QCD approximations that are even less simple. The notion that it can be characterized by a single parameter is questionable.

Muons probe a very different part of the proton structure function than electrons. Muon orbitals are much smaller than electron orbitals, so protons look even less like a point mass to them. As such it is not surprising that they would result in a significantly different value for a single parameter in a particular model of the proton, even if the experiment is not in error somehow. By far the hardest part of the structure function of nucleons to model in QCD are the tails, and that is exactly what muons will be most sensitive too.

This is how experimentalists react to anomalous results: the most probable explanation, always, is that the people doing the work screwed up. We then set out to prove how they screwed up. If we can't, we start to think about other corrections seriously.

Theorists will of course have no difficulty explaining this result, even if it later turns out to be incorrect. But even if the results are correct, they will almost certainly be accounted for by relatively insignificant tweaking of QCD estimates of the proton structure function, which is good solid science, but not the kind of great big deal that TFA seems to want to make of it.

Re:Previous measurement error? (1)

hackus (159037) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841906)

Wow, the theory is wrong?

I think as far as the standard model is concerned, and you have to realize we are talking about just a particular form of matter called the proton really, 4% is probably not earth shattering.

I would say our instruments are getting better at measuring things.

What I think is forgotten here is the progenitor processes of matter creation in the Universe which is how we really see reality, and defined in the Standard Model of how it all works to make stars, planets, biology etc.

MISSED 95% of the known UNIVERSE.

Reality of the Standard Model isn't even CLOSE to understanding in my view what REALLY ARE the fundamental forces of the Universe and how they work or how it began or if it will end.

Oh sure, if you want to build Hydrogen Bombs and Chernobyls it works great.

But I do not consider any of the Standard Model, really a view of reality. More like a "industrial recipe" for building things of dubious value which ironically because you can build these things, people think it is rational to deduce the Standard Model...

is reality.

Poor souls...no wonder why these people can not think of how to get to the nearest star, or delcare better forms of energy a "very hard problem".

-Hack

Re:Previous measurement error? (5, Interesting)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841348)

4% sure does seem significant. But more interesting is that the measurement is thought to be much more precise because of the method of measurement. Doesn't it seem more likely that it's just not possible to get an accurate measurement with the electron -- like measuring a grape with a yardstick instead of a micrometer?

Maybe, but this is still surprising. Measure a grape with a metre rule, you should still be able to say 'it's between a centimetre and a centimetre and a half.' Measure it with a micrometer, and you'd expect to see a result like 'It's 1.2144 centimetres.' If the micrometer instead measured the grape at 0.7218 centimetres, well, you'd be puzzled. First of all, of course, you'd check you were doing it right. You'd examine your micrometer and make sure you were operating it correctly. You'd recheck how you measured it with the metre rule - is it zero from where the number is printed, or from the edge of the ruler, is the ruler maybe worn down at the edge?

But if all that checked out and you still had this discrepancy, you'd start to wonder if your ruler and your micrometer were really measuring the same units.

Hence the suggestion of new physics. Theoretically the muon should act like a heavy electron - interacting with the proton in just the same way, so that it can be used as a more precise probe on the size of the proton. It would be the micrometer to the electron's metre rule. If it doesn't - if the muon interacts with the proton in some unexpected way so as to throw the measure off - then we've discovered something beyond the standard model.

There are quite a few indications that there is physics beyond the standard model - heavy neutrinos, the abundance of matter over antimatter, the dark matter - and so if we can add this to the list then maybe it can help pin down just what sort of a new theory we're looking for. We've got to have something to do once the good people of Geneva finally hammer us out a Higgs, after all :-)

Re:Previous measurement error? (4, Insightful)

radtea (464814) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841932)

But if all that checked out and you still had this discrepancy, you'd start to wonder if your ruler and your micrometer were really measuring the same units.

The grape analogy is not a particularly good one. Consider instead a peach analogy. With an electron you're looking at it from 20 m away. With a muon from 10 cm away.

At 10 cm you're going to be vastly more sensitive to the detailed structure of the peach. What at 20 m looked like it could be characterized adequately by a single radial parameter is now clearly a copmlex shape that doesn't even have a very sharp boundary, being covered with fuzz and all.

By far the most likely explanation of this result is something slightly wrong with our understanding of the tails of the proton's structure function, not anything as deep as physics beyond the standard model.

Massive neutrinos aside--as they require only the most minor tweak in the form of off-diagonal elements in the KM matrix--physics beyond the standard model is a bit like fusion power: we've been a few years away from detecting it for the past thirty years... It's gotta be out there somewhere, granted, but I'll be shocked if this experiment is the smoking gun.

Re:Previous measurement error? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841382)

Or, perhaps the expansion of the universe is actually reducing the size of subatomic particles

Too lazy to look up the right xkcd, but this made me think:
"But what if they make a more efficient Prius?"
"Then England will drift out to sea."

Re:Previous measurement error? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841698)

best xkcd ever!

Re:Previous measurement error? (3, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841414)

And of course, there's that stupid cat-in-a-box thing...

Not relevant in this case. The uncertainty is between two different measurements, say, mass and momentum. You don't care about the momentum in this case, so the uncertainty in the momentum can be as high as you like. (In this case they're measuring radius rather than mass, but the uncertainty principle governs many different pairs of measurements.)

Doesn't it seem more likely that it's just not possible to get an accurate measurement with the electron -- like measuring a grape with a yardstick instead of a micrometer?

It's more like trying to measure an watermelon with a yardstick rather than a grape. The muon is heavier by a factor of 200, so the energy levels are higher, making them easier to detect with precision. The energy levels of the electron are very small and fine, making them hard to measure with precision.

Re:Previous measurement error? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841964)

You've hit it! The universe is not expanding, rather everything is shrinking...!!! Of course having a babe in the movie whose attire keeps shrinking in overall coverage as the movie progresses will help visually depict the dastardly dilemma.

Misleading use of absolute numbers (3, Insightful)

l2718 (514756) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841132)

In fact, the correction is about 2% (from 0.8768(69) fm to 0.84184(67)fm; one femtometer is 10^{-15} metres). Yes, the absolute magnitude of the difference is small compared to everyday things, but that's meaningless. More importantly, this difference is more than 5 standard deviations, so this is unlikely to have happened by chance.

Re:Misleading use of absolute numbers (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841640)

(0.8768-0.84184)/0.8768 = 0.03987

Why didn't you say "about 4%"?

People will be mad (1, Funny)

keithpreston (865880) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841162)

A hellaphysicist will be pretty mad is the proton is a hellometer smaller.

Stupid marketers (2, Funny)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841174)

>> The Proton Just Got Smaller

The price is the same, the box is the same, but now there's less proton.

All My Work is Ruined (2, Funny)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841452)

Hey, I've been working on a new Proton Filter. Everything was going fine. Now I have to contact my Chinese factory engineers and retool for a smaller seive. Damn it all to hell. No one wants a proton filter that will let proton through. What am I going to do with 45k faulty proton filters?

Re:Stupid marketers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841494)

Scientists can miniaturize anything these days!

see... (5, Funny)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841176)

this is why i never listen to scientist.

they're always lying, and making me pissed.

fucking protons, how do they work?

Re:see... (-1, Troll)

FauxPasIII (75900) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841866)

Try religion! They pick an answer and stick with it, no matter what new and contradictory facts come to light.

will they reimburse for the loss? (1, Funny)

AffidavitDonda (1736752) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841258)

or is it the taxpayers again?

Ridiculous notion. (-1, Troll)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841264)

The "Size" of a proton is so ridiculous, like the "size" of a magnetic field. What's the diameter of the earth's magnetosphere?

Blithering idiots. Thinking such backwards things like "matter is solid." Oh, yes, a proton is a tiny, tiny, microscopic pebble... not even. It's a concentrated, stabilized form of energy; vibrations moving in such a way as to hold them together coherently. That's why protons can combine with electrons to form neutrons, and neutrons can emit electrons to form protons (Beta decay).

Oh, yeah, an object with a bigger mass was able to dive deeper into the charge field of a proton. Good job, you got one singularity closer to another singularity than thought possible.

Re:Ridiculous notion. (1)

epiphani (254981) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841304)

I'm sorry, unless you have published at least one paper at the Ph.D level on quantum theory, how about you shut up about what you think is ridiculous on this topic.

Re:Ridiculous notion. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841718)

You are in error. First, how do you know the GP hasn't published a physics paper? Second, you commit the logical fallacy of appeal to authority. After all, these physicists claim that the experiments performed by their predecessors (who would almost certainly qualify as being experts and who have themselves published physics papers) were in error. Think about what you're saying.

Re:Ridiculous notion. (1)

bannable (1605677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841352)

Do you know what the difference is between a useful scientist and not-so-useful scientist?
The not-so-useful scientist thinks like you. The useful one is the source for TFA.

Re:Ridiculous notion. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841390)

I'm not a physicist but this is exactly what my intuition told me.

I think you're right on here.

Re:Ridiculous notion. (5, Informative)

Remus Shepherd (32833) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841604)

Physicist here.

What's the diameter of the earth's magnetosphere?

About 10 Earth radii, defined as the point where the Earth's magnetic field is stronger than the solar wind and thus becomes the dominant force on electrical particles.

Similarly, we define the proton's radius in terms of its charge distribution. See how easy that is? It only takes a simple definition to make a word like 'size' meaningful.

And in the case of the proton is *is* meaningful, because you are incorrect about the proton being a singularity. The proton is composed of three quarks, each with their own charges and charge fields.

The quarks inside a proton are held together by strong force interactions. So any change in the measurable size of a proton is a change in what we know about the strong force. This is significant. Either the strong force is 4% stronger than our calculations predict, or there is another mechanism that is squeezing that proton's charge field down. Another force? Another particle? It'll be exciting to find out, now that we know there's something there to find.

The journalists who write about science often use bad, confusing, or just plain nonsensical terms. But it's almost always the journalists, and you can't really fault them for dumbing down their story to appeal to the largest group of readers. Whatever you do, don't blame the scientists. They are doing good work. It's not their fault if journalists relate it improperly, nor is it the scientists' fault if you don't understand the explanations.

Re:Ridiculous notion. (0)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841676)

And the diameter of the sphere of earth's gravitational pull I supposed is defined, too; even though the earth literally attracts every other particle in the universe with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

Re:Ridiculous notion. (4, Insightful)

Remus Shepherd (32833) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841820)

No, such a size is not defined. But it could be, if it were a useful measurement. It would have to be defined in relation to the gravitational fields in the neighborhood, which would make it around the same radius as the L1 Lagrange point. Voila, we have defined a gravitational 'size', and it can even be represented graphically. [wikipedia.org]

Nothing exists unless someone has defined it; by the same token, anything can be defined in some way.

Re:Ridiculous notion. (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841838)

Yes! You're catching on. :)

Re:Ridiculous notion. (1)

Darth (29071) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842048)

And the diameter of the sphere of earth's gravitational pull I supposed is defined, too; even though the earth literally attracts every other particle in the universe with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

somebody has been listening to weird al today...

Re:Ridiculous notion. (2)

Eivind Eklund (5161) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842156)

And the diameter of the sphere of earth's gravitational pull I supposed is defined, too; even though the earth literally attracts every other particle in the universe with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

I believe that only holds true under the assumption that gravity isn't quantized.

The protons are a changin' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841360)

A year ago one would have been labeled an amateur wannabe for even suggesting this. Now it's the new truth. Science is like that.

Honey... (5, Funny)

vilemike (1820670) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841438)

I shrunk the proton. The kids are fine, though.

Re:Honey... (1)

Marnok (780874) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841956)

But I didn't shrink the deputy, oh no.

Size doesn't matter (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841562)

It's how many electrons you attract that are in orbit around your awesome self.

Besides, if you know the size, you don't know the wave. You can have one, but not both.

It's more likely that... (2, Insightful)

Hylandr (813770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841570)

It's more likely that our ability to measure has improved.

You're conclusions are only going to be as accurate as your ability to weigh, or measure.

- Dan.

does a muon have "internal structure"? (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841638)

Since a low energy muon usually decays into an electron and couple of neutrinos, it may not be a point particle like an electron. The calculation may not have accounted for this.

Re:does a muon have "internal structure"? (4, Interesting)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842202)

As far as our particle accelerators & theory can tell, electrons, muons and quarks are all elementary particles with no internal structure. Internal structure is not necessary for particle decay---particle decay isn't really inside-parts spewing out, it is energy in one form of matter being allowed by laws of physics & quantum mechanics to transform into another state.

It would be extremely unlikely if muons had internal structure and electrons didn't.

The most likely scenario is (unfortunately) that there are some effects which actually are part of Standard Model physics, but they weren't included in the theoretical calculations. The theoretical calculations can get quite hairy and complex; perhaps something was approximated in a way that isn't actually as valid as originally believed or some other interaction which is hard to compute was ignored.

Well this is Obvious... (1)

Darnitol (1851580) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841802)

Since mass is a result of drag on the Higgs field, is also affected by the expansion of the field. Earlier measurements took place in an infinitesimally denser universe, producing infinitesimally more drag on the Higgs field. In a later universe, the field has become less dense due to expansion, so particles have less mass because they're dragging the Higgs field less. Viola! Can I have my Nobel Prize now? ;-)

Global warming (0, Flamebait)

gsgriffin (1195771) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841848)

is already being detected to cause changes in the very fabric of our existence. See! More proof!

or finally using new CPU's (1)

gsgriffin (1195771) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841918)

I knew the day would come when that pesky little Pentium FPU error would come back to haunt us.

protons smaller... (1)

Device666 (901563) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841872)

Well seeing is believing, calculations can always be wrong ;) Show a real picture of a proton and I am convinced (please no photoshopping on that picture grrr).

Re:protons smaller... (1)

Chapter80 (926879) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842110)

Well seeing is believing, calculations can always be wrong ;) Show a real picture of a proton and I am convinced (please no photoshopping on that picture grrr).

Here ya go: [ . ]

Actually, that is not only a "picture" of a proton, that is an actual proton. Simply eliminate everything that is not the proton in question, and you're left with a proton.

See?

smaller in what way? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32841876)

Are we talking mass or volume?

And is it a perfect sphere, or does it bulge in the middle like the earth does. Protons have spin right? (Except when they are on O'Reilly's show I guess)

Paging Dr. Superbrain (1)

ICLKennyG (899257) | more than 4 years ago | (#32841954)

There's never a theoretical particle physicist when you need one. (Never thought I'd say that phrase)

Re:Paging Dr. Superbrain (2, Funny)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842162)

There's never a theoretical particle physicist when you need one. (Never thought I'd say that phrase)

Theoretical physicist? I'd prefer the question be answered by an ACTUAL physicist. B-)

(And if I weren't on a slow dialup link right now I'd hunt up the issue of "nukees" - a web comic written and drawn by an actual nuclear engineering PhD - where the new berkeley student opens the door to the "Theoretical physics conference room" and finds it opens into thin air about three stories up.)

Maybe.. (1)

ricardo.fng (200869) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842042)

Protons change size depending on which lepton they are "orbited" by.

Doesn't help when... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32842236)

You use the same scientists to weigh things that made the Intel Pentium.

article is poorly written (1)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 4 years ago | (#32842266)

they give the size of the proton in two or three diff units, and the diff in two or three units, but never have a simple explanation,old x femtometers, new y femtometers stupid mba journalists who don't know science
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