Particle Collider


Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

Particles made up of three quarks are called baryons; the two best known baryons are the proton (made up of two up quarks and one down) and the neutron (two down quarks and one up). Together with the mesons – particles comprised of a quark and an antiquark – baryons form the hadrons (you’ve heard of hadrons, they’re part of the name of the world’s most powerful particle collider, the Large Hadron Collider, the LHC).

Because they’re made up of quarks, baryons ‘feel’ the strong force (or strong nuclear force as it is also called), which is mediated by gluons. The other kind of particle which makes up ordinary matter is leptons, which are not – as far as we know – made up of anything (and as they do not contain quarks, they do not participate in the strong interaction … which is another way of saying they do not experience the strong force); the electron is one kind of lepton. Baryons and leptons are fermions, so obey the Pauli exclusion principle (which, among other things, says that there can be no more than one fermion in a particular quantum state at any time … and ultimately why you do not fall through your chair).

In the kinds of environments we are familiar with in everyday life, the only stable baryon is the proton; in the environment of the nuclei of most atoms, the neutron is also stable (and in the extreme environment of a neutron star too); there are, however, hundreds of different kinds of unstable baryons.

One big, open question in cosmology is how baryons were formed – baryogenesis – and why are there essentially no anti-baryons in the universe. For every baryon, there is a corresponding anti-baryon … there is, for example, the anti-proton, the anti-baryon counterpart to the proton, made up of two up anti-quarks and one down anti-quark. So if there were equal numbers of baryons and anti-baryons to start with, how come there are almost none of the latter today?

Astronomers often use the term ‘baryonic matter’, to refer to ordinary matter; it’s a bit of a misnomer, because it includes electrons (which are leptons) … and it generally excludes neutrinos (and anti-neutrinos), which are also leptons! Perhaps a better term might be matter which interacts via electromagnetism (i.e. feels the electromagnetic force), but that’s a bit of a mouthful. Non-baryonic matter is what (cold) dark matter (CDM) is composed of; CDM does not interact electromagnetically.

The Particle Data Group maintains summary tables of the properties of all known baryons. A relatively new area of research in astrophysics (and cosmology) is baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO); read more about it at this Los Alamos National Laboratory website …

… and in the Universe Today article New Search for Dark Energy Goes Back in Time. Other Universe Today stories featuring baryons explicitly include Is Dark Matter Made Up of Sterile Neutrinos?, and Astronomers on Supernova High Alert.


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