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Six ways we could finally find new physics beyond the standard model

Leading physicists explain how they think we will discover the new particles or forces that would complete one of science's greatest unfinished masterpieces

By Jon Butterworth, Alex Keshavarzi, Clare Burrage, Surjeet Rajendran, Emily Adlam and Matt Strassler

6 September 2023

The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope has captured a high-resolution image of a tightly bound pair of actively forming stars, known as Herbig-Haro 46/47, in near-infrared light. Look for them at the centre of the red diffraction spikes. The stars are buried deeply, appearing as an orange-white splotch. They are surrounded by a disc of gas and dust that continues to add to their mass. Herbig-Haro 46/47 is an important object to study because it is relatively young ??? only a few thousand years old. Stars take millions of years to form. Targets like this also give researchers insight into how stars gather mass over time, potentially allowing them to model how our own Sun, a low-mass star, formed. The two-sided orange lobes were created by earlier ejections from these stars. The stars??? more recent ejections appear as blue, thread-like features, running along the angled diffraction spike that covers the orange lobes. Actively forming stars ingest the gas and dust that immediately surrounds them in a disc (imagine an edge-on circle encasing them). When the stars ???eat??? too much material in too short a time, they respond by sending out two-sided jets along the opposite axis, settling down the star???s spin, and removing mass from the area. Over millennia, these ejections regulate how much mass the stars retain. Don???t miss the delicate, semi-transparent blue cloud. This is a region of dense dust and gas, known as a nebula. Webb???s crisp near-infrared image lets us see through its gauzy layers, showing off a lot more of Herbig-Haro 46/47, while also revealing a wide range of stars and galaxies that lie far beyond it. The nebula???s edges transform into a soft orange outline, like a backward L along the right and bottom of the image. The blue nebula influences the shapes of the orange jets shot out by the central stars. As ejected material rams into the nebula on the lower left, it takes on wider shapes, because there is more opportunity for the jets to interact with molecules within the nebula. Its material also causes the stars??? ejections to light up. Over millions of years the stars in Herbig-Haro 46/47 will form fully ??? clearing the scene. Take a moment to linger on the background. A profusion of extremely distant galaxies dot Webb???s view. Its composite NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) image is made up of several exposures, highlighting distant galaxies and stars. Blue objects with diffraction spikes are stars, and the closer they are, the larger they appear. White-and-pink spiral galaxies sometimes appear larger than these stars, but are significantly farther away. The tiniest red dots, Webb???s infrared specialty, are often the oldest, most distant galaxies. [Image description: At the centre is a thin horizontal orange cloud tilted from bottom left to top right. It takes up about two-thirds of the length of this angle, but is thin at the opposite angle. At its centre is a set of very large red and pink diffraction spikes in Webb???s familiar eight-pointed pattern. It has a central yellow-white blob, which hides two tightly orbiting stars. The background is filled with stars and galaxies.]

The standard model of particle physics cannot explain dark matter or dark energy, which together make up 95 per cent of the cosmos

NASA, ESA, CSA, J. DePasquale (STScI)

IN 1973, physicist Steven Weinberg gave a talk in Aix-en-Provence, France. It was there, according to Weinberg, that he first used the term “standard model” to describe the nascent description of the fundamental constituents of the universe and their interactions. Fifty years on, the standard model of particle physics is a stunningly accurate picture of what everything is made of and how it all works to produce reality.

Practically everything, anyway. Because although the 50th anniversary is well worth celebrating, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the theory is incomplete. It doesn’t explain gravity, or why we have so much matter in the universe and so little antimatter. And it says nothing about so-called dark matter and dark energy, postulated to explain why the cosmos behaves in certain ways.

This is why physicists are casting around for clues that could lead us to a better theory. But which, if any, will deliver an upgrade to the standard model? How do we find the deluxe version? We let six of today’s leading physicists explain how they think we will finally discover a more complete picture of reality.

Collisions at the energy frontier

Jon Butterworth

University College London

It is always risky to bet against the standard model of particle physics. Historically, most people who have done so have lost. But over the next decade and a half, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will continue …

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