Two stories on the same day about scientific puzzles that completely uproot our conventional views of how the universe operates. First this: Meet Niku, the Weird Object Beyond Neptune That Nobody Can Figure Out. And what’s weird?
Authored by the astronomer Ying-Tung Chen of Academia Sinca in Taiwan and an international team of astronomers from Harvard to Hawaii to Germany, the paper describes a sense of utter confusion regarding the behavior of this little object.
Niku orbits on a plane that is tilted 110 degrees from the plane of the rest of the solar system. One theory is that a large object’s gravity is influencing Niku, causing it to orbit at an angle to everything else as well as backward.
Although tiny, a proton takes up a finite amount of space, enough to fit three quarks, a host of virtual particles, and their associated gluons. The size of a proton’s radius is determined by these particles and their interactions, and so is fundamentally tied in to theories like the Standard Model and quantum chromodynamics.
We can measure the radius because the proton’s charge is spread across it, which influences the orbit of any electrons that might be circling it. Measurements with electrons produce a value that’s easily in agreement with existing theories. But a few years back, researchers put a heavier version of the electron, called a muon, in orbit around a proton. This formed an exotic, heavier version of the hydrogen atom. And here, measuring the proton’s radius produced an entirely different value—something that shouldn’t have happened.
This “proton radius puzzle” suggests there may be something fundamentally wrong with our physics models. And the researchers who discovered it have now moved on to put a muon in orbit around deuterium, a heavier isotope of hydrogen. They confirm that the problem still exists, and there’s no way of solving it with existing theories.
I say the same about our economic problems, but this is on a very different plane.