A new boson at 151 GeV?! Not quite yet

Title: “Accumulating Evidence for the Associate Production of
a Neutral Scalar with Mass around 151 GeV”

Authors: Andreas Crivellin et al.

Reference: https://arxiv.org/abs/2109.02650

Everyone in particle physics is hungry for the discovery of a new particle not in the standard model, that will point the way forward to a better understanding of nature. And recent anomalies: potential Lepton Flavor Universality violation in B meson decays and the recent experimental confirmation of the muon g-2 anomaly, have renewed peoples hopes that there may new particles lurking nearby within our experimental reach. While these anomalies are exciting, if they are confirmed they would be ‘indirect’ evidence for new physics, revealing concrete a hole in the standard model, but not definitely saying what it is that fills that hole.  We would then would really like to ‘directly’ observe what was causing the anomaly, so we can know exactly what the new particle is and study it in detail. A direct observation usually involves being able to produce it in a collider, which is what the high momentum experiments at the LHC (ATLAS and CMS) are designed to look for.

By now these experiments have done hundreds of different analyses of their data searching for potential signals of new particles being produced in their collisions and so far haven’t found anything. But in this recent paper, a group of physicists outside these collaborations argue that they may have missed such a signal in their own data. Whats more, they claim statistical evidence for this new particle at the level of around 5-sigma, which is the threshold usually corresponding to a ‘discovery’ in particle physics.  If true, this would of course be huge, but there are definitely reasons to be a bit skeptical.

This group took data from various ATLAS and CMS papers that were looking for something else (mostly studying the Higgs) and noticed that multiple of them had an excess of events at a particle energy, 151 GeV. In order to see how significant theses excesses were in combination, they constructed a statistical model that combined evidence from the many different channels simultaneously. Then they evaluate that the probability of there being an excess at the same energy in all of these channels without a new particle is extremely low, and thus claim evidence for this new particle at 5.1-sigma (local). 

4 plots in different channels showing the purported excess at 151 GeV in different channels.
FIgure 1 from the paper. This shows the invariant mass spectrum of the new hypothetical boson mass in the different channels the authors consider. The authors have combined CMS and ATLAS data from different analyses and normalized everything to be consistent in order to make such plot. The pink line shows the purported signal at 151 GeV. The largest significance comes from the channel where the new boson decays into two photons and is produced in association with something that decays invisibly (which produces missing energy).
A plot of the significance (p-value) as a function of the mass of the new particle. Combing all the channels, the significance reaches the level of 5-sigma. One can see that the significance is dominated by diphoton channels.

This is a of course a big claim, and one reason to be skeptical is because they don’t have a definitive model, they cannot predict exactly how much signal you would expect to see in each of these different channels. This means that when combining the different channels, they have to let the relative strength of the signal in each channel be a free parameter. They are also combining the data a multitude of different CMS and ATLAS papers, essentially selected because they are showing some sort of fluctuation around 151 GeV. So this sort of cherry picking of data and no constraints on the relative signal strengths means that their final significance should be taken with several huge grains of salt.

The authors further attempt to quantify a global significance, which would account of the look-elsewhere effect , but due to the way they have selected their datasets  it is not really possible in this case (in this humble experimenter’s opinion).

Still, with all of those caveats, it is clear that there is some excesses in the data around 151 GeV, and it should be worth experimental collaborations’ time to investigate it further. Most of the data the authors use comes control regions of from analyses that were focused solely on the Higgs, so this motivates the experiments expanding their focus a bit to cover these potential signals. The authors also propose a new search that would be sensitive to their purported signal, which would look for a new scalar decaying to two new particles that decay to pairs of photons and bottom quarks respectively (H->SS*-> γγ bb).


In an informal poll on Twitter, most were not convinced a new particle has been found, but the ball is now in ATLAS and CMS’s courts to analyze the data themselves and see what they find. 



Read More:

An Anomalous Anomaly : The New Fermilab Muon g-2 Results” A Particle Bites post about one recent exciting anomaly 

The flavour of new physics” Cern Courier article about the recent anomalies relating to lepton flavor violation 

Unveiling Hidden Physics at the LHC” Recent whitepaper that contains a good review of the recent anomalies relevant for LHC physics 

For a good discussion of this paper claiming a new boson, see this Twitter thread

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