This week scientists at CERN have stumbled upon five new particles. According to one of the researchers, the particles had been “hiding in plain sight”, and now that they have been discovered, they could serve to help illuminate some of the most fundamental parts of the universe.
The discovery has come from the Large Hadron Collider’s LHCb detector, or LHC beauty, which is investigating what immediately after the Big Bang and searches for objects such as antimatter. Professor Tim Gershon from Warwick University’s physics department was involved in the project as the UK spokesperson for the LHCb. This is such an exciting discovery in part because all of the five new particles were discovered at once, with an overwhelming level of statistical significance. In order to reach these results, there was an investigation which needed 3.3 inverse femtobarns of proton-proton collision data, or close to 250 trillion collisions.
These new particles are all excited states of the baryon Omega-c-zero (Ωc0), with each of the five being a different decay state (the rather catchily-named Ωc(3000)0, Ωc(3050)0, Ωc(3066)0, Ωc(3090)0 and Ωc(3119)0). A baryon is, simply, something made of three fundamental particles called quarks. Quarks are said to have six flavours – up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom – and the different combinations of these flavours gives rise to the different ‘larger’ particles. A common example of a baryon is a proton, which is made up of two ‘up’ quarks and a ‘down’ quark. Ωc0 contains two ‘strange and one ‘charm’ quark.
Now the decay states have been found, they could provide insight into one of the forces that binds our universe together.
After Ωc0 was first observed in 1994, scientists predicted states like the five now spotted, but they needed the sensitivity of the LHCb to watch their brief life. Now the decay states have been found, they could provide insight into one of the forces that binds our universe together. This is because the decay of Ωc0 is driven by the strong nuclear force. The strong force is one of the four basic forces in nature, and its main function is to hold together protons and neutrons, binding them together into atomic nuclei. By measuring the properties of these newly discovered particles, scientists may be able to gain a greater understanding of this force. Dr Greig Cowan, of the University of Edinburgh, said that the discovery “will shed light on how quarks bind together. It may have implications not only to better understand protons and neutrons, but also more exotic multi-quark states, such as pentaquarks and tetraquarks.”
CERN’s announcement is just the first step – the scientists will now try to find the quantum numbers of the new particles and confirm their theoretical significance. However, this discovery is likely to be very important in furthering the way we comprehend our universe and quantum theory in general.