It is also challenging a fundamental theory of physics.
Physicists have confirmed the existence of a new pear-shaped atomic nucleus that is challenging a fundamental theory of physics used to explain the universe.
It was previously thought that the nuclei of atoms could only be one of three shapes — spherical, discus, or football. These shapes are formed by the distribution of charge within a nucleus, which is determined by the combination of protons and neutrons making up the atom.
There is something common among all three shapes: they are symmetrical. They also fit nice and snug into a fundamental theory of particle physics known as CP-Symmetry.
CP-Symmetry is the combination of two symmetries that are believed to exist in the universe: C-, or charge, symmetry, states that if you flip an atomic charge to its opposite, the physics of the atom will remain exactly the same; while P-, or parity, symmetry, states that the spatial coordinates can be flipped at the origin, meaning x, y, and z can be replaced with -x, -y, and -z.
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"In particle physics, if you have a particle spinning clockwise and decaying upwards, its antiparticle should spin counterclockwise and decay upwards 100 percent of the time if CP is conserved," explained Ethan Siegel of Forbes. "If not, CP is violated.”
However, physicists at CERN discovered an asymmetrical pear-shaped nucleus in the Radium-224 isotope back in 2013. The CERN find was confirmed by this second study, which showed that the nucleus of the Barium-144 isotope is also asymmetrical and pear-shaped.
"[T]he protons enrich in the bump of the pear and create a specific charge distribution in the nucleus," Marcus Scheck from the University of the West of Scotland and co-author of the paper, told the BBC. "This violates the theory of mirror symmetry."
Although the results may mean that the Standard Model of physics may need some rethinking, it doesn’t end there.
The discovery could help scientists solve the mystery of dark matter and may even explain why traveling backwards in time is likely impossible.
"We've found these nuclei literally point towards a direction in space. This relates to a direction in time, proving there's a well-defined direction in time and we will always travel from past to present," said Scheck.
So much for time travel.
The study has been published in the journal Physical Review Letters, and is also available online at arXiv.org.
Read next: Physicists Have Disproved a Leading Hypothesis on Dark Matter’s Composition