Wednesday, 1 April 2015

What If, Part 1

This is the do-or-die year, so Résonaances will be dead serious. This year, no stupid jokes on April Fools' day: no Higgs in jail, no loose cables, no discovery of supersymmetry, or such. Instead, I'm starting with a new series "What If" inspired  by XKCD.  In this series I will answer questions that everyone is dying to know the answer to. The first of these questions is

If HEP bloggers were Muppets,
which Muppet would they be? 

Here is  the answer.

  • Gonzo the Great: Lubos@Reference Frame (on odd-numbered days)
    The one true artist. Not treated seriously by other Muppets, but adored by chicken.
  • Animal: Lubos@Reference Frame (on even-numbered days)
    My favorite Muppet. Pure mayhem and destruction. Has only two modes: beat it, or eat it.
  • Swedish Chef: Tommaso@Quantum Diaries Survivor
    The Muppet with a penchant for experiment. You don't understand what he says but it's always amusing nonetheless.
  • Kermit the Frog: Matt@Of Particular Significance
    Born Muppet leader, though not clear if he really wants the job.
  • Miss Piggy: Sabine@Backreaction
    Not the only female Muppet, but certainly the best known. Admired for her stage talents but most of all for her punch.
  • Rowlf: Sean@Preposterous Universe
    One-Muppet orchestra. Impressive as an artist or and as a comedian, though some complain he's gone to the dogs.

  • Statler and Waldorf: Peter@Not Even Wrong
    Constantly heckling other Muppets from the balcony, yet every week back for more.
  • Fozzie Bear:  Jester@Résonaances
    Failed stand-up comedian. Always stressed that he may not be funny after all.
     
If you have a match for  Bunsen, Beaker, or Dr Strangepork, let me know in the comments.

In preparation:
-If theoretical physicists were smurfs... 

-If LHC experimentalists were Game of Thrones characters...
-If particle physicists lived in Middle-earth... 

-If physicists were cast for Hobbit's dwarves... 
and more. 


Friday, 20 March 2015

LHCb: B-meson anomaly persists

Today LHCb released a new analysis of the angular distribution in  the B0 → K*0(892) (→K+π-) μ+ μ- decays. In this 4-body decay process, the angles between the direction of flight of all the different particles can be measured as a function of the invariant mass  q^2 of the di-muon pair. The results are summarized in terms of several form factors with imaginative names like P5', FL, etc. The interest in this particular decay comes from the fact that 2 years ago LHCb reported a large deviation from the standard model prediction in one q^2 region of 1 form factor called P5'. That measurement was based on 1 inverse femtobarn of data;  today it was updated to full 3 fb-1 of run-1 data. The news is that the anomaly persists in the q^2 region 4-8 GeV, see the plot.  The measurement  moved a bit toward the standard model, but the statistical errors have shrunk as well.  All in all, the significance of the anomaly is quoted as 3.7 sigma, the same as in the previous LHCb analysis. New physics that effectively induces new contributions to the 4-fermion operator (\bar b_L \gamma_\rho s_L) (\bar \mu \gamma_\rho \mu) can significantly improve agreement with the data, see the blue line in the plot. The preference for new physics remains remains high, at the 4 sigma level, when this measurement is combined with other B-meson observables.

So how excited should we be? One thing we learned today is that the anomaly is unlikely to be a statistical fluctuation. However, the observable is not of the clean kind, as the measured angular distributions are  susceptible to poorly known QCD effects. The significance depends a lot on what is assumed about these uncertainties, and experts wage ferocious battles about the numbers. See for example this paper where larger uncertainties are advocated, in which case the significance becomes negligible. Therefore, the deviation from the standard model is not yet convincing at this point. Other observables may tip the scale.  If a  consistent pattern of deviations in several B-physics observables emerges,  only then we can trumpet victory.


Plots borrowed from David Straub's talk in Moriond; see also the talk of Joaquim Matias with similar conclusions. David has a post with more details about the process and uncertainties. For a more popular write-up, see this article on Quanta Magazine. 

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Weekend Plot: Fermi and more dwarfs

This weekend's plot comes from the recent paper of the Fermi collaboration:

It shows the limits on the cross section of dark matter annihilation into tau lepton pairs. The limits are obtained from gamma-ray observations of 15 dwarf galaxies during 6 years. Dwarf galaxies are satellites of Milky Way made mostly of dark matter with few stars in it, which makes them a clean environment to search for dark matter signals. This study is particularly interesting because it is sensitive to dark matter models that could explain the gamma-ray excess detected from the center of the Milky Way.  Similar limits for the annihilation into b-quarks have already been shown before at conferences. In that case, the region favored by the Galactic center excess seems entirely excluded. Annihilation of 10 GeV dark matter into tau leptons could also explain the excess. As can be seen in the plot, in this case there is also  large tension with the dwarf limits, although astrophysical uncertainties help to keep hopes alive.  

Gamma-ray observations by Fermi will continue for another few years, and the limits will get stronger.   But a faster way to increase the statistics may be to find more observation targets. Numerical simulations with vanilla WIMP dark matter predict a few hundred dwarfs around the Milky Way. Interestingly, a discovery of several new dwarf candidates was reported last week. This is an important development, as the total number of known dwarf galaxies now exceeds the number of dwarf characters in Peter Jackson movies. One of the candidates, known provisionally as DES J0335.6-5403 or  Reticulum-2, has a large J-factor (the larger the better, much like the h-index).  In fact, some gamma-ray excess around 1-10 GeV is observed from this source, and one paper last week even quantified its significance as ~4 astrosigma (or ~3 astrosigma in an alternative more conservative analysis). However, in the Fermi analysis using  more recent reconstruction Pass-8 photon reconstruction,  the significance quoted is only 1.5 sigma. Moreover the dark matter annihilation cross section required to fit the excess is excluded by an order of magnitude by the combined dwarf limits. Therefore,  for the moment, the excess should not be taken seriously.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Persistent trouble with bees

No, I still have nothing to say about colony collapse disorder... this blog will stick to physics for at least 2 more years. This is an update on the anomalies in B decays reported by the LHCbee experiment. The two most important ones are:

  1. The  3.7 sigma deviation from standard model predictions in the differential distribution of the B➝K*μ+μ- decay products.
  2.  The 2.6 sigma violation of lepton flavor universality in B+→K+l+l- decays. 

 The first anomaly is statistically more significant. However, the theoretical error of the standard model prediction is not trivial to estimate and the significance of the anomaly is subject to fierce discussions. Estimates in the literature range from 4.5 sigma to 1 sigma, depending on what is assumed about QCD uncertainties. For this reason, the second anomaly made this story much more intriguing.  In that case, LHCb measures the ratio of the decay with muons and with electrons:  B+→K+μ+μ- vs B+→K+e+e-. This observable is theoretically clean, as large QCD uncertainties cancel in the ratio. Of course, 2.7 sigma significance is not too impressive; LHCb once had a bigger anomaly (remember CP violation in D meson decays?)  that is now long gone. But it's fair to say that the two anomalies together are marginally interesting.      

One nice thing is that both anomalies can be explained at the same time by a simple modification of the standard model. Namely, one needs to add the 4-fermion coupling between a b-quark, an s-quark, and two muons:

with Λ of order 30 TeV. Just this one extra coupling greatly improves a fit to the data, though other similar couplings could be simultaneously present. The 4-fermion operators can be an effective description of new heavy particles coupled to quarks and leptons.  For example, a leptoquark (scalar particle with a non-zero color charge and lepton number) or a Z'  (neutral U(1) vector boson) with mass in a few TeV range have been proposed. These are of course simple models created ad-hoc. Attempts to put these particles in a bigger picture of physics beyond  the standard model have not been very convincing so far, which may be one reason why the anomalies are viewed a bit skeptically. The flip side is that, if the anomalies turn out to be real, this will point to unexpected symmetry structures around the corner.

Another nice element of this story is that it will be possible to acquire additional relevant information in the near future. The first anomaly is based on just 1 fb-1 of LHCb data, and it will be updated to full 3 fb-1 some time this year. Furthermore, there are literally dozens of other B decays where the 4-fermion operators responsible for the anomalies could  also show up. In fact, there may already be some hints that this is happening. In the table borrowed from this paper we can see that there are several other  2-sigmish anomalies in B-decays that may possibly have the same origin. More data and measurements in  more decay channels should clarify the picture. In particular, violation of lepton flavor universality may come together with lepton flavor violation.  Observation of decays forbidden in the standard model, such as B→Keμ or  B→Kμτ, would be a spectacular and unequivocal signal of new physics.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Weekend Plot: Inflation'15

The Planck collaboration is releasing new publications based on their full dataset, including CMB temperature and large-scale polarization data.  The updated values of the crucial  cosmological parameters were already made public in December last year, however one important new element is the combination of these result with the joint Planck/Bicep constraints on the CMB B-mode polarization.  The consequences for models of inflation are summarized in this plot:

It shows the constraints on the spectral index ns and the tensor-to-scalar ratio r of the CMB fluctuations, compared to predictions of various single-field models of inflation.  The limits on ns changed slightly compared to the previous release, but the more important progress is along the y-axis. After including the joint Planck/Bicep analysis (in the plot referred to as BKP), the combined limit on the tensor-to-scalar ratio becomes r < 0.08.  What is also important, the new limit is much more robust; for example, allowing for a scale dependence of the spectral index  relaxes the bound  only slightly,  to r< 0.10.

The new results have a large impact on certain classes models. The model with the quadratic inflaton potential, arguably the simplest model of inflation, is now strongly disfavored. Natural inflation, where the inflaton is a pseudo-Golsdtone boson with a cosine potential, is in trouble. More generally, the data now favors a concave shape of the inflaton potential during the observable period of inflation; that is to say, it looks more like a hilltop than a half-pipe. A strong player emerging from this competition is R^2 inflation which, ironically, is the first model of inflation ever written.  That model is equivalent to an exponential shape of the inflaton potential, V=c[1-exp(-a φ/MPL)]^2, with a=sqrt(2/3) in the exponent. A wider range of the exponent a can also fit the data, as long as a is not too small. If your favorite theory predicts an exponential potential of this form, it may be a good time to work on it. However, one should not forget that other shapes of the potential are still allowed, for example a similar exponential potential without the square V~ 1-exp(-a φ/MPL), a linear potential V~φ, or more generally any power law potential V~φ^n, with the power n≲1. At this point, the data do not favor significantly one or the other. The next waves of CMB polarization experiments should clarify the picture. In particular, R^2 inflation predicts 0.003 < r < 0.005, which is should be testable in a not-so-distant future.

Planck's inflation paper is here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

B-modes: what's next


The signal of gravitational waves from inflation is the holy grail of cosmology. As is well known, at the end of a quest for the holy grail there is always the Taunting Frenchman....  This is also the fate of the BICEP quest for primordial B-mode polarization imprinted in the Cosmic Microwave Background by the gravitational waves.  We've already known, since many months, that the high intensity of the galactic dust foreground does not allow BICEP2 to unequivocally detect the primordial B-mode signal. The only open question was how strong limits on the parameter r - the tensor-to-scalar ratio of primordial fluctuations - can be set. This is the main result of the recent paper that combines data from the BICEP2, Keck Array, and Planck instruments. BICEP2 and Keck are orders of magnitude more sensitive than Planck to CMB polarization fluctuations. However, they made measurements only at one frequency of 150 GhZ where the CMB signal is large. Planck, on the other hand, can contribute  measurements at higher frequencies where the galactic dust dominates, which allows them to map out the foregrounds in the window observed by BICEP. Cross-correlating the Planck and BICEP maps allows one to subtract the dust component, and extract the constraints on the parameter r. The limit quoted by BICEP and Planck,  r < 0.12, is however worse than  r < 0.11 from Planck's analysis of temperature fluctuations. This still leaves a lot of room for the primordial B-mode signal hiding in the CMB.  

So the BICEP2 saga is definitely over, but the search for the primordial B-modes is not.  The lesson we learned is that single frequency instruments like BICEP2 are not good in view of large galactic foregrounds. The road ahead is then clear: build more precise multi-frequency instruments, such that foregrounds can be subtracted. While we will not send a new CMB satellite observatory anytime soon, there are literally dozens of ground based and balloon CMB experiments already running or coming online in the near future. In particular, the BICEP program continues, with Keck Array running at other frequencies, and the more precise BICEP3 telescope to be completed this year. Furthermore, the SPIDER balloon experiment just completed the first Antarctica flight early this year, with a two-frequency instrument on board. Hence, better limits on r are expected already this year. See the snapshots below, borrowed from these slides, for a compilation of upcoming experiments.




Impressive, isn't it? These experiments should be soon sensitive to r~0.01, and in the long run to r~0.001. Of course, there is no guarantee of a detection. If the energy scale of inflation is just a little below 10^16 GeV, then we will never observe the signal of gravitational waves. Thus, the success of this enterprise crucially depends on Nature being kind. However the high stakes make  these searches worthwhile. A discovery, would surely count among the greatest scientific breakthrough of 21st century. Better limits, on the other hand, will exclude some simple models of inflation.  For example, single-field inflation with a quadratic potential is already under pressure. Other interesting models, such as natural inflation, may go under the knife soon. 

For quantitative estimates of future experiments' sensitivity to r, see this paper.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Weekend plot: spin-dependent dark matter

This weekend plot is borrowed from a nice recent review on dark matter detection:
It shows experimental limits on the spin-dependent scattering cross section of dark matter on protons. This observable is not where the most spectacular race is happening, but it is important for constraining more exotic models of dark matter. Typically, a scattering cross section in the non-relativistic limit is independent of spin or velocity of the colliding particles. However, there exist reasonable models of dark matter where the low-energy cross section is more complicated. One possibility is that the interaction strength is proportional to the scalar product of spin vectors of a dark matter particle and a nucleon (proton or neutron). This is usually referred to as the spin-dependent scattering, although other kinds of spin-dependent forces that also depend on the relative velocity are possible.

In all existing direct detection experiments, the target contains nuclei rather than single nucleons. Unlike in the spin-independent case, for spin-dependent scattering the cross section is not enhanced by coherent scattering over many nucleons. Instead, the interaction strength is proportional to the expectation values of the proton and neutron spin operators in the nucleus.  One can, very roughly, think of this process as a scattering on an odd unpaired nucleon. For this reason, xenon target experiments such as Xenon100 or LUX are less sensitive to the spin-dependent scattering on protons because xenon nuclei have an even number of protons.  In this case,  experiments that contain fluorine in their target molecules have the best sensitivity. This is the case of the COUPP, Picasso, and SIMPLE experiments, who currently set the strongest limit on the spin-dependent scattering cross section of dark matter on protons. Still, in absolute numbers, the limits are many orders of magnitude weaker than in the spin-independent case, where LUX has crossed the 10^-45 cm^2 line. The IceCube experiment can set stronger limits in some cases by measuring the high-energy neutrino flux from the Sun. But these limits depend on what dark matter annihilates into, therefore they are much more model-dependent than the direct detection limits.