What’s the Big Deal About the Pentaquark?

The pentaquark, a novel arrangement of five elementary particles, has been detected at the Large Hadron Collider. This particle may hold the key to a better understanding of the Universe's strong nuclear force. [Image credit: CERN/LHCb experiment]

“Three quarks for Muster Mark!,” wrote James Joyce in his labyrinthine fable, Finnegan’s Wake. By now, you may have heard this quote – the short, nonsensical sentence that eventually gave the name “quark” to the Universe’s (as-yet-unsurpassed) most fundamental building blocks. Today’s physicists believe that they understand the basics of how quarks combine; three join up to form baryons (everyday particles like the proton and neutron), while two – a quark and an antiquark – stick together to form more exotic, less stable varieties called mesons. Rare four-quark partnerships are called tetraquarks. And five quarks bound in a delicate dance? Naturally, that would be a pentaquark. And the pentaquark, until recently a mere figment of physics lore, has now been detected at the LHC!

So what’s the big deal? Far from just being a fun word to say five-times-fast, the pentaquark may unlock vital new information about the strong nuclear force. These revelations could ultimately change the way we think about our superbly dense friend, the neutron star – and, indeed, the nature of familiar matter itself.

Physicists know of six types of quarks, which are ordered by weight. The lightest of the six are the up and down quarks, which make up the most familiar everyday baryons (two ups and a down in the proton, and two downs and an up in the neutron). The next heaviest are the charm and strange quarks, followed by the top and bottom quarks. And why stop there? In addition, each of the six quarks has a corresponding anti-particle, or antiquark.

particles
Six types of quark, arranged from left to right by way of their mass, depicted along with the other elementary particles of the Standard Model. The Higgs boson was added to the right side of the menagerie in 2012. (Image Credit: Fermilab)

An important attribute of both quarks and their anti-particle counterparts is something called “color.” Of course, quarks do not have color in the same way that you might call an apple “red” or the ocean “blue”; rather, this property is a metaphorical way of communicating one of the essential laws of subatomic physics – that quark-containing particles (called hadrons) always carry a neutral color charge.

For instance, the three components of a proton must include one red quark, one green quark, and one blue quark. These three “colors” add up to a neutral particle in the same way that red, green, and blue light combine to create a white glow. Similar laws are in place for the quark and antiquark that make up a meson: their respective colors must be exactly opposite. A red quark will only combine with an anti-red (or cyan) antiquark, and so on.

The pentaquark, too, must have a neutral color charge. Imagine a proton and a meson (specifically, a type called a J/psi meson) bound together – a red, a blue, and a green quark in one corner, and a color-neutral quark-antiquark pair in the other – for a grand total of four quarks and one antiquark, all colors of which neatly cancel each other out.

Physicists are not sure whether the pentaquark is created by this type of segregated arrangement or whether all five quarks are bound together directly; either way, like all hadrons, the pentaquark is kept in check by that titan of fundamental dynamics, the strong nuclear force.

The strong nuclear force, as its name implies, is the unspeakably robust force that glues together the components of every atomic nucleus: protons and neutrons and, more crucially, their own constituent quarks. The strong force is so tenacious that “free quarks” have never been observed; they are all confined far too tightly within their parent baryons.

But there is one place in the Universe where quarks may exist in and of themselves, in a kind of meta-nuclear state: in an extraordinarily dense type of neutron star. In a typical neutron star, the gravitational pressure is so tremendous that protons and electrons cease to be. Their energies and charges melt together, leaving nothing but a snug mass of neutrons.

Physicists have conjectured that, at extreme densities, in the most compact of stars, adjacent neutrons within the core may even themselves disintegrate into a jumble of constituent parts.

The neutron star… would become a quark star.

The difference between a neutron star and a quark star (Chandra)
The difference between a neutron star and a quark star. (Image Credit: Chandra)

Scientists believe that understanding the physics of the pentaquark may shed light on the way the strong nuclear force operates under such extreme conditions – not only in such overly dense neutron stars, but perhaps even in the first fractions of a second following the Big Bang. Further analysis should also help physicists refine their understanding of the ways that quarks can and cannot combine.

The data that gave rise to this discovery – a whopping 9-sigma result! – came out of the LHC’s first run (2010-2013). With the supercollider now operating at double its original energy capacity, physicists should have no problem unraveling the mysteries of the pentaquark even further.

A preprint of the pentaquark discovery, which has been submitted to the journal Physical Review Letters, can be found here.

Weekly Space Hangout – June 5, 2015: Stephen Fowler, Creative Director at InfoAge

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)
Special Guest: This week we welcome Stephen Fowler, who is the Creative Director at InfoAge, the organization behind refurbishing the TIROS 1 dish and the Science History Learning Center and Museum at Camp Evans, Wall, NJ.

Guests:
Jolene Creighton (@jolene723 / fromquarkstoquasars.com)
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg )

Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – June 5, 2015: Stephen Fowler, Creative Director at InfoAge”

Could You Put a Black Hole in Your Pocket?

Could You Put a Black Hole in Your Pocket?

How small do black holes get? Could you carry one around in your pocket? Does that even like a sane thing to do?

I’m pleased to announce that the Large Hadron Collider, the enormous particle accelerator in Europe has begun operations again with twice the colliding power. Smashing atoms with 15 Tera-electron volts.

The LHC double-down has a laundry list of science to get done, like determining the nature of dark matter, searching for particles to confirm the theory of supersymmetry, and probing the Universe for extra dimensions. One of its tasks will be to search for Hawking Radiation, the stream of particles that come out of black holes as they evaporate.

So, in order to watch them evaporate, the LHC is going to try and create little tiny black holes. We only know one natural process for creating black holes: the death of massive stars as supernova. Oh, and whatever it took to make supermassive black holes – that’s still pretty much a mystery.

As a side note, we are going to be supermassively embarrassed if it turns out they’re created by species messing with forces far beyond their comprehension by doubling the power at their biggest particle accelerator, and turning their region of the Universe into a giant mess. Clean up, aisle Milky Way.

Apparently, you could get a black hole of any size, even microscopic. If you took the mass of the Earth, compressed it down to the size of a marble, it would become a black hole. A black hole with the mass of the Earth.

The only place this might have been possible was at the very beginning of the Universe, shortly after the Big Bang. When the Universe was unimaginably hot and dense, there were tiny fluctuations of density, nooks in spacetime where tiny black holes might have formed. Maybe they don’t exist at all, the conditions of the early Universe didn’t bring them about. It’s just a theory. A theory that the Large Hadron Collider will try to confirm or deny.

Artist illustration of a black hole. Image credit: NASA
Artist illustration of a black hole. Image credit: NASA

The important question is, will it kill us all? Could a black hole fall out of the experiment, and roll down into the sewer drain. Chewing its way down into the center of the Earth, gobbling away the core of the planet, eventually creating an Earth-massed black hole?

Here’s the good news. The less massive, the hotter it is, and the faster it evaporates. Microscopic black holes would evaporate in a faction of a second. Any that the LHC could create, would disintegrate in a faction of a second. In fact, they should be gone in 10^-27 seconds.

So it turns out, you could put a black hole in your pocket. An Earth-mass black hole would fit nicely in your pocket. An Earth’s worth of gravity, however, could prove problematic.

Fortunately, there’s no natural process that can create these objects, and any black holes that we could create would be gone before you could get them anywhere near a pocket. So, you should probably stop thinking of it in terms of one of Lord Nibbler’s doodies.

What would you do with a pocket-sized black hole? Tell us in the comments below.

How Do Black Holes Evaporate?

How Do Black Holes Evaporate?

Nothing lasts forever, not even black holes. According to Stephen Hawking, black holes will evaporate over vast periods of time. But how, exactly, does this happen?

The actor Stephen Hawking is best known for his cameo appearances in Futurama and Star Trek, you might surprised to learn that he’s also a theoretical astrophysicist. Is there anything that guy can’t do?

One of the most fascinating theories he came up with is that black holes, the Universe’s swiffer, can actually evaporate over vast periods of time.

Quantum theory suggests there are virtual particles popping in and out of existence all the time. When this happens, a particle and its antiparticle appear, and then they recombine and disappear again.

When this takes place near an event horizon, strange things can happen. Instead of the two particles existing for a moment and then annihilating each other, one particle can fall into the black hole, and the other particle can fly off into space. Over vast periods of time, the theory says that this trickle of escaping particles causes the black hole to evaporate.

Wait, if these virtual particles are falling into the black hole, shouldn’t that make it grow more massive? How does that cause it to evaporate? If I add pebbles to a rock pile, doesn’t my rock pile just get bigger?

It comes down to perspective. From an outside observer watching the black hole’s event horizon, it appears as if there’s a glow of radiation coming from the black hole. If that was all that was happening, it would violate the law of thermodynamics, as energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Since the black hole is now emitting energy, it needs to have given up a little bit of its mass to provide it.

Let’s try another way to think about this. A black hole has a temperature. The more massive it is, the lower its temperature, although it’s still not zero.

From now and until far off into the future, the temperature of the largest black holes will be colder than the background temperature of the Universe itself. Light from the cosmic microwave background radiation will fall in, increasing its mass.

Viewed in visible light, Markarian 739 resembles a smiling face.  Inside are two supermassive black holes, separated by about 11,000 light-years. The galaxy is 425 million light-years away from Earth. Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Viewed in visible light, Markarian 739 resembles a smiling face. Inside are two supermassive black holes, separated by about 11,000 light-years. The galaxy is 425 million light-years away from Earth. Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Now, fast forward to when the background temperature of the Universe drops below even the coolest black holes. Then they’ll slowly radiate heat away, which must come from the black hole converting its mass into energy.

The rate that this happens depends on the mass. For stellar mass black holes, it might take 10^67 years to evaporate completely.

For the big daddy supermassive ones at the cores of galaxies, you’re looking at 10^100. That’s a one, followed by 100 zero years. That’s huge number, but just like any gigantic and finite number, it’s still less than infinity. So over an incomprehensible amount of time, even the longest living objects in the Universe – our mighty black holes – will fade away into energy.

One last thing, the Large Hadron Collider might be capable of generating microscopic black holes, which would last for a fraction of a second and disappear in a burst of Hawking radiation. If they find them, then Hawking might want to the acting on hold and focus on physics.

The LHC. Image Credit: CERN
The LHC. Image Credit: CERN

Nothing is eternal, not even black holes. Over the longest time frames we’re pretty sure they’ll evaporate away into nothing. The only way to find out is to sit back and watch, well maybe it’s not the only way.

Does the idea of these celestial nightmares evaporating fill you with existential sadness? Feel free to share your thoughts with others in the comments below.

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Weekly Space Hangout – April 10, 2015: Orbital Docking with Dr. Stephen Granade

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)
Special Guest: Dr. Stephen Granade (@sargent)
Guests:
Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com)
Charles Black (@charlesblack / sen.com/charles-black)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – April 10, 2015: Orbital Docking with Dr. Stephen Granade”

Weekly Space Hangout – March 27, 2015: Dark Matter Galaxy “X” with Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)
Special Guest: Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti, Lead Investigator for team that may have discovered Dark Matter Galaxy “X”.

Guests:
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg )
Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com)
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – March 27, 2015: Dark Matter Galaxy “X” with Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti”

How Do We Know Dark Matter Exists?

Fritz Zwicky
Fritz Zwicky. Image Source: Fritz Zwicky Stiftung website

Dark matter can’t be seen or detected by any of our instruments, so how do we know it really exists?

Imagine the Universe was a pie, and you were going to slice it up into tasty portions corresponding to what proportions are what. The largest portion of the pie, 68% would go to dark energy, that mysterious force accelerating the expansion of the Universe. 27% would go to dark matter, the mysterious matter that surrounds galaxies and only interacts through gravity. A mere 5% of this pie would go to regular normal matter, the stuff that stars, planets, gas, dust, and humans are made out of.

Dark matter has been given this name because it doesn’t seem to interact with regular matter in any way. It doesn’t collide with it, or absorb energy from it. We can’t see it or detect it with any of our instruments. We only know it’s there because we can see the effect of its gravity.

Now, you might be saying, if we don’t know what this thing is, and we can’t detect it. How do we know it’s actually there? Isn’t it probably not there, like dragons? How do we know dark matter actually exists, when we have no idea what it actually is?

Oh, it’s there. In fact, pretty much all we know is that it does exist. Dark matter was first theorized back in the 1930s by Fritz Zwicky to account for the movement of galaxy clusters, but the modern calculations were made by Vera Rubin in the 1960s and 70s. She calculated that galaxies were spinning more quickly than they should. So quickly that they should tear themselves apart like a merry-go-round ejecting children.

Rubin imagined that every galaxy was stuck inside a vast halo of dark matter that supplied the gravity to hold the galaxy together. But there was no way to actually detect this stuff, so astronomers proposed other models. Maybe gravity doesn’t work the way we think it does at vast distances.

But in the last few years, astronomers have gotten better and better at detecting dark matter, purely though the effect of its gravity on the path that light takes as it crosses the Universe. As light travels through a region of dark matter, its path gets distorted by gravity. Instead of taking a straight line, the light is bent back and forth depending on how much dark matter is passes through.

And here’s the amazing part. Astronomers can then map out regions of dark matter in the sky just by looking at the distortions in the light, and then working backwards to figure out how much intervening dark matter would need to be there to cause it.

Large Hadron Collider.  Credit:  NY Times
Large Hadron Collider. Credit: NY Times

These techniques have become so sophisticated that astronomers have discovered unusual situations where galaxies and their dark matter have gotten stripped away from each other. Or dark matter galaxies which don’t have enough gas to form stars. They’re just giant blobs of dark matter. Astronomers even use dark matter as gravitational lenses to study more distant objects. They have no idea what dark matter is, but they can still use it as a telescope.

They’ve never captured a dark matter particle, and haven’t studied them in the lab. One of the Large Hadron Collider’s next tasks will be to try and generate particles that match the characteristics of dark matter as we understand it. Even if the LHC doesn’t actually create dark matter, it will help narrow down the current theories, hopefully helping physicists focus in on the true nature of this mystery.

This is how science works. Someone notices something unusual, and then people propose theories to explain it. The theory that best matches reality is considered correct. We live in a modern world, where so many scientific theories have already been proven for hundreds of years: germs, gravity, evolution, etc. But with dark matter, you’re alive at a time when this is a mystery. And if we’re lucky, we’ll see it solved within our lifetime. Or maybe there’s no dark matter after all, and we’re about to learn something totally new about our Universe. Science, it’s all up to you.

What do you think dark matter is? Tell us in the comments below.

BICEP2 All Over Again? Researchers Place Higgs Boson Discovery in Doubt

This is the signature of one of 100s of trillions of particle collisions detected at the Large Hadron Collider. The combined analysis lead to the discovery of the Higgs Boson. This article describes one team in dissension with the results. (Photo Credit: CERN)

At the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe, faster is better. Faster means more powerful particle collisions and looking deeper into the makeup of matter. However, other researchers are proclaiming not so fast. LHC may not have discovered the Higgs Boson, the boson that imparts mass to everything, the god particle as some have called it. While the Higgs Boson discovery in 2012 culminated with the awarding in December 2013 of the Nobel Prize to Peter Higgs and François Englert, a team of researchers has raised these doubts about the Higgs Boson in their paper published in the journal Physical Review D.

The discourse is similar to what unfolded in the last year with the detection of light from the beginning of time that signified the Inflation epoch of the Universe. Researchers looking into the depths of the Universe and the inner depths of subatomic particles are searching for signals at the edge of detectability, just above the noise level and in proximity to the signals from other sources. For the BICEP2 telescope observations (previous U.T. articles), its pretty much back to the drawing board but the Higgs Boson (previous U.T. articles) doubts are definitely challenging but needing more solid evidence. In human affairs, if the Higgs Boson was not detected by the LHC, what does one do with an awarded Nobel Prize?

Cross-section of the Large Hadron Collider where its detectors are placed and collisions occur. LHC is as much as 175 meters (574 ft) below ground on the Frence-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. The accelerator ring is 27 km (17 miles) in circumference. (Photo Credit: CERN)
Cross-section of the Large Hadron Collider where its detectors are placed and collisions occur. LHC is as much as 175 meters (574 ft) below ground on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. The accelerator ring is 27 km (17 miles) in circumference. (Photo Credit: CERN)

The present challenge to the Higgs Boson is not new and is not just a problem of detectability and acuity of the sensors as is the case with BICEP2 data. The Planck space telescope revealed that light radiated from dust combined with the magnetic field in our Milky Way galaxy could explain the signal detected by BICEP2 that researchers proclaimed as the primordial signature of the Inflation period. The Higgs Boson particle is actually a prediction of the theory proposed by Peter Higgs and several others beginning in the early 1960s. It is a predicted particle from gauge theory developed by Higgs, Englert and others, at the heart of the Standard Model.

This recent paper is from a team of researchers from Denmark, Belgium and the United Kingdom led by Dr. Mads Toudal Frandsen. Their study entitled, “Technicolor Higgs boson in the light of LHC data” discusses how their supported theory predicts Technicolor quarks through a range of energies detectable at LHC and that one in particular is within the uncertainty level of the data point declared to be the Higgs Boson. There are variants of Technicolor Theory (TC) and the research paper compares in detail the field theory behind the Standard Model Higgs and the TC Higgs (their version of the Higgs boson). Their conclusion is that a TC Higgs is predicted by Technicolor Theory that is consistent with expected physical properties, is low mass and has an energy level – 125 GeV – indistinguishable from the resonance now considered to be the Standard Model Higgs. Theirs is a composite particle and it does not impart mass upon everything.

So you say – hold on! What is a Technicolor in jargon of particle physics? To answer this you would want to talk to a plumber from South Bronx, New York – Dr. Leonard Susskind. Though no longer a plumber, Susskind first proposed Technicolor to describe the breaking of symmetry in gauge theories that are part of the Standard Model. Susskind and other physicists from the 1970s considered it unsatisfactory that many arbitrary parameters were needed to complete the Gauge theory used in the Standard Model (involving the Higgs Scalar and Higgs Field). The parameters consequently defined the mass of elementary particles and other properties. These parameters were being assigned and not calculated and that was not acceptable to Susskind, ‘t Hooft, Veltmann and others. The solution involved the concept of Technicolor which provided a “natural” means of describing the breakdown of symmetry in the gauge theories that makeup the Standard Model.

Technicolor in particle physics shares one simple thing in common with Technicolor that dominated the early color film industry – the term composite in creating color or particles.

Dr. Leonard Susskind, a leading developer of the Theory of Technicolor (left) and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Peter Higgs who proposed the existence of a particle that imparts mass to all matter - the Higgs Boson (right). (Photo Credit: University of Stanford, CERN)
Dr. Leonard Susskind, a leading developer of the Theory of Technicolor (left) and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Peter Higgs who proposed the existence of a particle that imparts mass to all matter – the Higgs Boson (right). (Photo Credit: University of Stanford, CERN)

If the theory surrounding Technicolor is correct, then there should be many techni-quark and techni-Higgs particles to be found with the LHC or a more powerful next generation accelerator; a veritable zoo of particles besides just the Higgs Boson. The theory also means that these ‘elementary’ particles are composites of smaller particles and that another force of nature would be needed to bind them. And this new paper by Belyaev, Brown, Froadi and Frandsen claims that one specific techni-quark particle has a resonance (detection point) that is within the uncertainty of measurements for the Higgs Boson. In other words, the Higgs Boson might not be “the god particle” but rather a Technicolor Quark particle comprised of smaller more fundamental particles and another force binding them.

This paper by Belyaev, Brown, Froadi and Frandsen is a clear reminder that the Standard Model is unsettled and that even the discovery of the Higgs Boson is not 100% certain. In the last year, more sensitive sensors have been integrated into CERN’s LHC which will help refute this challenge to Higgs theory – Higgs Scalar and Field, the Higgs Boson or may reveal the signatures of Technicolor particles. Better detectors may resolve the difference between the energy level of the Technicolor quark and the Higgs Boson. LHC researchers were quick to state that their work moves on beyond discovery of the Higgs Boson. Also, their work could actually disprove that they found the Higgs Boson.

Contacting the co-investigator Dr. Alexander Belyaev, the question was raised – will the recent upgrades to CERN accelerator provide the precision needed to differentiate a technie-Quark from the Higg’s particle?

“There is no guarantee of course” Dr. Belyaev responded to Universe Today, “but upgrade of LHC will definitely provide much better potential to discover other particles associated with theory of Technicolor, such as heavy Techni-mesons or Techni-baryons.”

Resolving the doubts and choosing the right additions to the Standard Model does depend on better detectors, more observations and collisions at higher energies. Presently, the LHC is down to increase collision energies from 8 TeV to 13 TeV. Among the observations at the LHC, Super-symmetry has not fared well and the observations including the Higgs Boson discovery has supported the Standard Model. The weakness of the Standard Model of particle physics is that it does not explain the gravitational force of nature whereas Super-symmetry can. The theory of Technicolor maintains strong supporters as this latest paper shows and it leaves some doubt that the Higgs Boson was actually detected. Ultimately another more powerful next-generation particle accelerator may be needed.

In a previous Universe Today story, the question was raised - is the Standard Model a Rube Goldberg Device? Most theorists would say 'no' but it is unlikely to reach the status of the 'theory of everything' (Illustration Credit: R.Goldberg- the toothpaste dispenser, variant T.Reyes)
In a previous Universe Today story, the question was raised – is the Standard Model a Rube Goldberg Device? Most theorists would say ‘no’ but it is unlikely to reach the status of the ‘theory of everything’ (Illustration Credit: R.Goldberg- the toothpaste dispenser, variant T.Reyes)

For Higgs and Englert, the reversal of the discovery is by no means the ruination of a life’s work or would be the dismissal of a Nobel Prize. The theoretical work of the physicists have long been recognized by previous awards. The Standard Model as, at least, a partial solution of the theory of everything is like a jig-saw puzzle. Piece by piece is how it is being developed but not without missteps. Furthermore, the pieces added to the Standard Model can be like a house of cards and require replacing a larger solution with a wholly other one. This could be the case of Higgs and Technicolor.

At times like children somewhat determined, physicists thrust a solution into the unfolding puzzle that seems to fit but ultimately has to be retracted. The present discourse does not yet warrant a retraction. Elegance and simplicity is the ultimate characteristics sought in theoretical solutions. Particle physicists also use the term Naturalness when describing the concerns with gauge theory parameters. The solutions – the pieces – of the puzzle created by Peter Higgs and François Englert have spearheaded and encouraged further work which will achieve a sounder Standard Model but few if any claim that it will emerge as the theory of everything.

References:

Pre-print of Technicolor Higgs boson in the light of LHC data

An Introduction to Technicolor, P. Sikivie, CERN, October 1980

Technicolour, Farhi & Susskind, March 1981

Two New Subatomic Particles Found

Particle Collider
Today, CERN announced that the LHCb experiment had revealed the existence of two new baryon subatomic particles. Credit: CERN/LHC/GridPP

With its first runs of colliding protons in 2008-2013, the Large Hadron Collider has now been providing a stream of experimental data that scientists rely on to test predictions arising out of particle and high-energy physics. In fact, today CERN made public the first data produced by LHC experiments. And with each passing day, new information is released that is helping to shed light on some of the deeper mysteries of the universe.

This week, for example, CERN announced the discovery two new subatomic particles that are part of the baryon family. The particles, known as the Xi_b’ and Xi_b*, were discovered thanks to the efforts of the LHCb experiment – an international collaboration involving roughly 750 scientists from around the world.

The existence of these particles was predicted by the quark model, but had never been seen before. What’s more, their discovery could help scientists to further confirm the Standard Model of particle physics, which is considered virtually unassailable now thanks to the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

Like the well-known protons that the LHC accelerates, the new particles are baryons made from three quarks bound together by the strong force. The types of quarks are different, though: the new X_ib particles both contain one beauty (b), one strange (s), and one down (d) quark. Thanks to the heavyweight b quarks, they are more than six times as massive as the proton.

Cross-section of the Large Hadron Collider where its detectors are placed and collisions occur. LHC is as much as 175 meters (574 ft) below ground on the Frence-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. The accelerator ring is 27 km (17 miles) in circumference. (Photo Credit: CERN)
Cross-section of the Large Hadron Collider where its detectors are placed and collisions occur. Credit: CERN

However, their mass also depends on how they are configured. Each of the quarks has an attribute called “spin”; and in the Xi_b’ state, the spins of the two lighter quarks point in the opposite direction to the b quark, whereas in the Xi_b* state they are aligned. This difference makes the Xi_b* a little heavier.

“Nature was kind and gave us two particles for the price of one,” said Matthew Charles of the CNRS’s LPNHE laboratory at Paris VI University. “The Xi_b’ is very close in mass to the sum of its decay products: if it had been just a little lighter, we wouldn’t have seen it at all using the decay signature that we were looking for.”

“This is a very exciting result,” said Steven Blusk from Syracuse University in New York. “Thanks to LHCb’s excellent hadron identification, which is unique among the LHC experiments, we were able to separate a very clean and strong signal from the background,” “It demonstrates once again the sensitivity and how precise the LHCb detector is.”

Blusk and Charles jointly analyzed the data that led to this discovery. The existence of the two new baryons had been predicted in 2009 by Canadian particle physicists Randy Lewis of York University and Richard Woloshyn of the TRIUMF, Canada’s national particle physics lab in Vancouver.

The bare masses of all 6 flavors of quarks, proton and electron, shown in proportional volume. Credit: Wikipedia/Incnis Mrsi
The bare masses of all 6 flavors of quarks, proton and electron, shown in proportional volume. Credit: Wikipedia/Incnis Mrsi

As well as the masses of these particles, the research team studied their relative production rates, their widths – a measure of how unstable they are – and other details of their decays. The results match up with predictions based on the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD).

QCD is part of the Standard Model of particle physics, the theory that describes the fundamental particles of matter, how they interact, and the forces between them. Testing QCD at high precision is a key to refining our understanding of quark dynamics, models of which are tremendously difficult to calculate.

“If we want to find new physics beyond the Standard Model, we need first to have a sharp picture,” said LHCb’s physics coordinator Patrick Koppenburg from Nikhef Institute in Amsterdam. “Such high precision studies will help us to differentiate between Standard Model effects and anything new or unexpected in the future.”

The measurements were made with the data taken at the LHC during 2011-2012. The LHC is currently being prepared – after its first long shutdown – to operate at higher energies and with more intense beams. It is scheduled to restart by spring 2015.

The research was published online yesterday on the physics preprint server arXiv and have been submitted to the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Further Reading: CERN, LHCb

The Face of Creation

The latest autotuned installment in John D. Boswell’s Symphony of Science series waxes melodic about the particle-smashing science being done with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in particular its search for the Higgs boson, a.k.a. the… ok, ok, I won’t say it…

“We can recreate the conditions that were present just after the beginning of the Universe.”
– Prof. Brian Cox, “The Face of Creation”


John has been entertaining science fans with his Symphony mixes since 2009, when his first video in the series — “A Glorious Dawn” featuring Carl Sagan — was released. Now John’s videos are eagerly anticipated by fans, who follow him on YouTube and on Twitter as @melodysheep.

I’d have to say my all-time favorite is “Onward to the Edge”, featuring astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Professor Brian Cox and Carolyn Porco from the Cassini imaging team.

Terra LuminaThanks to some help from Kickstarter, John has recently released an original album, Terra Lumina, a “collection of folk/rock songs with themes including gravity, geology, photons, and the Doppler effect.” It’s a unique musical take on some of science’s most amazing discoveries, from John D. Boswell and vocalist William Crowley. Check out the video trailer here.

The album can be found on Amazon and on iTunes.

Videos via melodysheep