From Pallab Ghosh Science Correspondent
Scientists have discovered new ways to group quarks, the smallest particles known to man.
These new structures only exist for a hundred-thousandth of a billionth of a billionth of a second, but they could explain how our universe came into being.
Atoms contain smaller particles called neutrons and protons, each made up of three quarks.
The “exotic” matter discovered in recent years consists of four and five quarks – tetraquarks and pentaquarks.
Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland have discovered a new pentaquark and two tetraquarks.
This brings the total number of discoveries to 21. Each is unique, but researchers are amazed by the qualities of the three new discoveries.
The new pentaquark decays into particles no other produces, while the two tetraquarks have the same mass, suggesting they may be the first known pair of exotic structures.
But perhaps more importantly, the latest findings mean there are now enough of these particles to group them like the chemical elements on the periodic table.
This is an essential first step in creating a theory and rulebook for exotic clubs.
In light of these new findings, physicists will discuss the topic Tuesday at a special seminar at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home of the Large Hadron Collider.
Studying the tiny differences between the tiniest things we know may seem daunting, but the interaction of quarks creates what is known as the “strong force” that holds the interiors of atoms, and therefore the entire universe, together.
“The strong force is extremely difficult to calculate, and we have no firm predictions about how exotic pentaquarks and tetraquarks are built,” says Professor Chris Parkes of the University of Manchester.
“But we hope that by discovering them, we can develop theories that will allow us to better understand them.”
What are Quarks?
A Greek philosopher, Democritus, held in the fifth century B.C. the idea that the world consists of indivisible particles, which he called atoms.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, experimental results showed that atoms are made up of smaller particles: electrons, neutrons and protons.
In the 1960s, it became clear that neutrons and protons are themselves made up of even smaller particles called quarks, and that the interaction of quarks is related to one of the fundamental forces in nature, the strong force.
This force not only holds the interiors of atoms together, but also plays an important role in the interactions of other subatomic particles that make the universe work.
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The Large Hadron Collider has undergone a major upgrade and the researchers involved believe they will discover many more such exotic particles, some of which may have six quarks bound together.
Some of them may have a less fleeting existence – maybe hundred billionths of a second.
That’s short by human standards, but since these particles travel at nearly the speed of light, they would leave trails a few millimeters long that would be a valuable footprint for physicists.
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