A particle detector has spotted something dangling from a balloon high above Antarctica, that standard physics is at a loss to explain.
Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna, or ANITA, the two unusual signals seen by the detector, can’t be attributed to any known particles, a team of physicists at Penn State reports online September 25 at arXiv.org. The result hints at the possibility of new particles beyond those cataloged in the standard model, the theory that describes the various elementary particles that make up matter.
Like the old man in the Pixar movie Up, ANITA floats on a helium balloon, at an altitude of 37 kilometers for about a month at a time. It searches for the signals of high-energy particles from space, including lightweight, ghostly particles called neutrinos. Those neutrinos can interact within Antarctica’s ice, producing radio waves that are picked up by ANITA’s antennas.
ANITA physicist Amy Connolly of Ohio State University in Columbus says, “what’s needed is more data. The ANITA team plans to send the detector up for another Antarctic balloon ride.”
“My view is that we should keep trying to find a mundane explanation for these events.”
“The case that ANITA is seeing something weird is strong,” says astrophysicist John Beacom, also of Ohio State. But “I always bet for the standard model.”
Beacom says, still, these events have such extreme energies that they are reaching into realms not accessible at particle colliders like the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva.