Research Article

The Rydberg constant and proton size from atomic hydrogen

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Science  06 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6359, pp. 79-85
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah6677

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How big is the proton?

The discrepancy between the size of the proton extracted from the spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen and the value obtained by averaging previous results for “regular” hydrogen has puzzled physicists for the past 7 years. Now, Beyer et al. shed light on this puzzle (see the Perspective by Vassen). The authors obtained the size of the proton using very accurate spectroscopic measurements of regular hydrogen. Unexpectedly, this value was inconsistent with the average value of previous measurements of the same type. Also unexpectedly, it was consistent with the size extracted from the muonic hydrogen experiments. Resolving the puzzle must now include trying to understand how the old results relate to the new, as well as reexamining the sources of systematic errors in all experiments.

Science, this issue p. 79; see also p. 39


At the core of the “proton radius puzzle” is a four–standard deviation discrepancy between the proton root-mean-square charge radii (rp) determined from the regular hydrogen (H) and the muonic hydrogen (µp) atoms. Using a cryogenic beam of H atoms, we measured the 2S-4P transition frequency in H, yielding the values of the Rydberg constant R = 10973731.568076(96) per meterand rp = 0.8335(95) femtometer. Our rp value is 3.3 combined standard deviations smaller than the previous H world data, but in good agreement with the µp value. We motivate an asymmetric fit function, which eliminates line shifts from quantum interference of neighboring atomic resonances.

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