For decades, physicists have measured the magnetism of the muon, a heavier, unstable cousin of the electron, which behaves like a tiny bar magnet. They put muons in a vertical magnetic field that makes them twirl horizontally like little compass needles. The frequency at which the muons twirl reveals how magnetic they are, which in principle can point to new particles, even ones too massive to be blasted into existence at an atom smasher like Europe’s Large Hadron Collider. That’s because, thanks to quantum uncertainty, the muon sits amid a haze of other particles and antiparticles flitting in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles can’t be observed directly, but they can affect the muon’s properties. Quantum mechanics and Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity predict the muon should have a certain basic magnetism. Familiar standard model particles flitting about the muon increase that magnetism by about 0.1%. And unknown particles lurking in the vacuum could add another, unpredictable increment of change. Further reading: Finding From Particle Research Could Rewrite Known Laws of Physics.
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