Recent experiments with the LHC at CERN -- European Organization for Nuclear Research -- in Switzerland, where the elusive Higgs boson was discovered earlier this year, may have discovered a new type of "spooky" matter in which particles seemingly interact without any direct connection with each other, they said.
In the LHC beams of particles crash into each other at high speeds in collisions, yielding hundreds of new particles, most of which fly away from the collision point at nearly the speed of light.
However, in a sample of 2 million lead-proton collisions, some pairs of particles flew away from each other with their respective directions correlated.
"Somehow they fly at the same direction even though it's not clear how they can communicate their direction with one another," reports Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics Professor Gunther Roland, whose group led the analysis of the collision data. "That has surprised many people, including us."
The behavior had previously been observed in collisions between larger particles under conditions similar to those that existed in the first few millionths of a second after the Big Bang.
The observed particle correlation may be due to quantum mechanics, researchers said.
"This 'quantum entanglement' explains how the particles that fly away from the collision can share information such as direction of flight path," Brookhaven National Laboratory scientist Raju Venugopalan told MIT News.
Quantum entanglement describes a phenomenon in which particles that were initially connected behave as if they are still interacting with each other even after they have been separated.
The phenomenon was so unexpected Albert Einstein famously dubbed it "spooky action at a distance."