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The hits just keep on coming from Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. So far this month, the lab has announced the discovery of a rare single top quark, and then narrowed the gap — twice, actually — for the mass of the elusive Higgs Boson particle, or “God particle,” thought to give all other particles their mass.
Now, scientists have detected a new, completely untheorized particle that challenges what physicists thought they knew about how quarks combine to form matter. They’re calling it Y(4140), reflecting its measured mass of 4140 Mega-electron volts.
“It must be trying to tell us something,” said Jacobo Konigsberg of the University of Florida, a spokesman for Fermilab’s collider detector team. “So far, we’re not sure what that is, but rest assured we’ll keep on listening.”
Matter as we know it comprises building blocks called quarks. Quarks fit together in various well-established ways to build other particles: mesons, made of a quark-antiquark pair, and baryons, made of three quarks.
But recently, electron-positron colliders at Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Japanese laboratory KEK have revealed examples of composite quark structures — named X and Y particles — that are not the usual mesons and baryons. And now, the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) collaboration has found evidence for the Y(4140) particle.
The Y(4140) particle decays into a pair of other particles, the J/psi and the phi, suggesting to physicists that it might be a composition of charm and anticharm quarks. However, the characteristics of this decay do not fit the conventional expectations for such a make-up. Other possible interpretations beyond a simple quark-antiquark structure are hybrid particles that also contain gluons, or even four-quark combinations.
The Fermilab scientists observed Y(4140) particles in the decay of a much more commonly produced particle containing a bottom quark, called the B+ meson. Sifting through trillions of proton-antiproton collisions from Fermilab’s Tevatron, they identified a small sampling of B+ mesons that decayed in an unexpected pattern. Further analysis showed that the B+ mesons were decaying into Y(4140).
The Y(4140) particle is the newest member of a family of particles of similar unusual characteristics observed in the last several years by experimenters at Fermilab’s Tevatron as well as at KEK and the SLAC lab, which operates at Stanford through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy.
“We congratulate CDF on the first evidence for a new unexpected Y state that decays to J/psi and phi,” said Japanese physicist Masanori Yamauchi, a KEK spokesperson. “This state may be related to the Y(3940) state discovered by Belle and might be another example of an exotic hadron containing charm quarks. We will try to confirm this state in our own Belle data.”
Theoretical physicists are trying to decode the true nature of these exotic combinations of quarks that fall outside our current understanding of mesons and baryons. Meanwhile, experimentalists happily continue to search for more such particles.
“We’re building upon our knowledge piece by piece,” said Fermilab spokesperson Rob Roser, “and with enough pieces, we’ll understand how this puzzle fits together.”
The Y(4140) observation is the subject of an article submitted by CDF to Physical Review Letters this week. Besides announcing Y(4140), the CDF experiment collaboration is presenting more than 40 new results at the Moriond Conference on Quantum Chromodynamics in Europe this week, including the discovery of electroweak top-quark production and a new limit on the Higgs boson, in concert with experimenters from Fermilab’s DZero collaboration.