UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — The evidence of the long-awaited hypothetical particle could have been hidden all this time in plain sight of the normal (X-ray) field of view.
Scientists have demonstrated that X-rays emanating from a cluster of neutron stars are so great that they could come from axions, long-predicted particles forged in the dense cores of these dead objects.
If their findings are confirmed, this discovery could help unravel some of the mysteries of the physical universe, including the nature of mysterious dark matter.
“Axion detection has been one of the mainstreams of high-energy particle physics, both in theory and experimentally,” said astronomer Raymond Co of the University of Minnesota.
“We think axions may exist, but we haven’t discovered them yet. You can think of axions as ghost particles. They can be anywhere in the Universe, but they don’t interact with us very much, so we don’t have any observations yet.”
Axions are hypothetical ultra-low-mass particles first mentioned in the 1970s to address the question of why atomic forces follow what is known as charge parity symmetry, although most models say this is unnecessary.
Axions are predicted by many string theory models – a proposed solution to the contradiction between general relativity and quantum mechanics – and axions of a certain mass are also strong candidates for dark matter. So scientists have a number of really good reasons to look for them.
If they exist, axions are expected to be born inside stars. These stellar axions are not the same as dark matter axions, but their existence implies the existence of other types of axions.
One way to find axions is to look for excess radiation. Axions are expected to decay into pairs of photons in the presence of a magnetic field, so if more electromagnetic radiation is detected in the region where this decay is expected than it should be, this may indicate the presence of axions.
In this case, the excess hard X-rays are exactly what astronomers have found by looking at neutron stars.
Neutron stars – the collapsing cores of dead massive stars that died in a supernova explosion – are not grouped together, but have a number of common features. All are isolated neutron stars of roughly middle age, several hundred thousand years after stellar death.
They all cool while emitting (soft) low energy X-rays. They all have strong magnetic fields, trillions of times stronger than Earth’s, powerful enough to cause the axion to decay. And they are all relatively close, within 1,500 light years of Earth.
This makes them an excellent laboratory for finding axions, and when a group of researchers led by senior author and physicist Benjamin Safdie of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory studied neutron stars with several telescopes, they discovered high-energy (hard) X-ray radiation not characteristic of neutron stars of this type.
However, there are many processes in space that can produce radiation, so the team had to carefully study other potential sources of radiation. For example, pulsars emit hard X-rays; but other forms of radiation from pulsars, such as radio waves, were excluded.
“We are quite sure that this excess of radiation levels exists, and we are confident that there is something new among this excess,” Safdie said. “If we were 100 percent sure that what we see is a new particle, that would be amazing. This would be a revolution in physics.”
This does not mean that excess is a new particle. It could have been a previously unknown astrophysical process. Or it could be something as simple as an artifact from telescopes or data processing.
“We are not yet claiming to have discovered the axion, but we are saying that additional X-ray photons can be explained by axions,” Benjamin said. “This is an exciting discovery of excess X-ray photons, and an exciting opportunity that is already consistent with our interpretation of axions.”
The next step is to try to verify the find.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for VOP from different countries around the world – edited and published by VOP staff in our newsroom.
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