ananyo writes "The proton, a fundamental constituent of the atomic nucleus, seems to be smaller than was thought. And despite three years of careful analysis and reanalysis of numerous experiments, nobody can figure out why.
An experiment published in Science only deepens the mystery.
The proton's problems started in 2010, when research using hydrogen made with muons seemed to show that the particle was 4% smaller than originally thought. The measurement, published in Nature, differed from those obtained by two other methods by 4%, or 0.03 femtometres. That's a tiny amount but is still significantly larger than the error bars on either of the other measurements.
The latest experiment also used muonic hydrogen, but probed a different set of energy levels in the atom. It yielded the same result as the Nature paper — a proton radius of 0.84 fm — but is still in disagreement with the earlier two measurements.
So what's the problem? There could be a problem with the models used to estimate the proton size from the measurements, but so far, none has been identified. The unlikely but tantalizing alternative is that this is a hint of new physics."
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