Researchers look for magnetic monopoles in polar rocks. (Courtesy: National Science Foundation/Kelly Speelman)

Searching for magnetic monopoles in polar rocks

Feb 11, 2013

The first search for magnetic monopoles in mantle-derived polar igneous rocks – thought to be likely to contain a higher ratio of monopoles to matter – has been conducted by researchers in Switzerland. The team analysed 23.4 kg of samples from Arctic and Antarctic regions. While no monopoles were found, the monopole to nucleon ratio in the search samples was constrained, with a 90% confidence level, to an upper limit of 1.6 monopoles per 10^28 nucleons. The team claims that its study, which adds to existing matter-bound monopole searches, has comparable or better sensitivity than the most extensive meteorite search to date.

Magnetic monopoles were famously predicted by Paul Dirac in 1931 as a way of explaining electric charge quantization. Their existence is also predicted by a number of grand unification theories, but the much-anticipated particle has so far remained elusive.

“The magnetic monopole is a truly fascinating hypothetical object – it explains electric charge quantization and it is needed in theories that unify the fundamental interactions,” says lead researcher Philippe Mermod, from the University of Geneva. “This makes us wonder why it has never been found in nature, as its non-existence would be a complete mystery.”

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