The fact that the measured mass of the W boson doesn't match the predicted mass within the Standard Model could mean three things. Either the math is wrong, the measurement is wrong or there is something missing from the Standard Model.
First, the math. In order to calculate the W boson's mass, physicists use the mass of the Higgs boson. CERN experiments have allowed physicists to measure the Higgs boson mass to within a quarter-percent. Additionally, theoretical physicists have been working on the W boson mass calculations for decades. While the math is sophisticated, the prediction is solid and not likely to change.
The next possibility is a flaw in the experiment or analysis. Physicists all over the world are already reviewing the result to try to poke holes in it. Additionally, future experiments at CERN may eventually achieve a more precise result that will either confirm or refute the Fermilab mass. But in my opinion, the experiment is as good a measurement as is currently possible.
That leaves the last option: There are unexplained particles or forces causing the upward shift in the W boson's mass. Even before this measurement, some theorists had proposed potential new particles or forces that would result in the observed deviation. In the coming months and years, I expect a raft of new papers seeking to explain the puzzling mass of W bosons.
As a particle physicist, I am confident in saying that there must be more physics waiting to be discovered beyond the Standard Model. If this new result holds up, it will be the latest in a series of findings showing that the Standard Model and real-world measurements often don't quite match. It is these mysteries that give physicists new clues and new reasons to keep searching for fuller understanding of matter, energy, space and time.
John Conway is an experimental high energy particle physicist, and is presently engaged in two large experiments: CDF at the Fermilab Tevatron in Batavia, Illinois, and CMS at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. He receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. National Science Foundation.
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