“Tantalising hints” is a phrase high energy physicists have a love-hate relation with, and for good measure. Often all major discoveries remain tantalizing hints for a long time, creating a lot of confusion, generating a lot of debates and then either fade away into oblivion or become something so big that history just cannot ignore it. A recent demonstration of this phenomenon was given at the LHC during the hunt for the Higgs, where what remained as a ‘tantalising signal’ for months, grew steadily and offered the LHC physicists their first opportunity to say ‘Hurrah!’ A similar event may be afoot at the giant Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (SuperCDMS ) experiment, located deep inside a tunnel in the Soudan Mine in northern Minnesota. There is a ‘tantalizing hint’ of the detection of a particle which might be the elusive Dark Matter particle.
The recent tidings have excited physicists, as they have detected three events in the detector of a possibly weakly interacting massive particle (WIMP). However, they need more events. The surety of the discovery of these WIMPs is only 99.8 %, which amounts to a wee bit more than what physicists call 3-sigma confidence level. This is at the ‘tantalising hint’ level. At 4-sigma, it gets interesting and only at 5-sigma (which is a massive 99.9997% surety), do physicists say that they have a discovery.
The mass of the particle is somewhere about 8-10 GeV, which is about 8 to 10 times the mass of the proton. That’s low mass in the context and this particle, if present, should turn up in some of the other colliders and detectors, especially the LHC, in the near future.
Theorists are already busy at work figuring out how all of this fits into their theory. Can a supersymmetric theory, a theorist’s dream for a long time, accommodate the particle of mass 10 GeV? If so, which version and how has that version fared at the LHC?
For now, let this hint promote itself to the level of a discovery – we have seen too many tantalizing signals come and then disappear to be hasty.