Now that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is smashing protons together at record energies, physicists are hoping to discover new and exotic particles emerge from the collisions. But there are a few unsolved mysteries surrounding different configurations of known subatomic particles that still have to be wrapped up.
And today, CERN announced the discovery of the "pentaquark" - a collection of five quarks bound together to form an exotic state of matter, a particle that has been theorized for some time but other experiments have had a hard time nailing down a true detection.
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"The pentaquark is not just any new particle," said Guy Wilkinson, spokesperson for the LHCb experiment at the LHC, in a CERN press release. "It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over fifty years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we're all made, is constituted."
Quarks are the subatomic constituents of regular particles, called hadrons. Hadrons come in two varieties, baryons (which contain 3 quarks) and mesons (which contain 2 quarks). Protons and neutrons are baryons where, for example, a proton is composed of 2 "up" quarks and 1 "down" quark; a neutron has 2 "down" quarks and 1 "up" quark.
But in the 1960′s, theorists realized that the Standard Model also allows the formation of 5 quarks in the same particle, known as a pentaquark. But experimental searches for this elusive 5-quark particle kept drawing blanks and any vaguely positive detection was quickly shot down by follow-up experiments.
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Now, a strong signal in the LHCb detector has led to the pentaquark's discovery.
LHCb physicists examined the decay of a baryon known as Lambda b (Λb) into 3 other particles, the J-psi (J/ψ-), a proton and a charged kaon. By using the highly sensitive detector to characterize the masses of these decay products, the physicists were able to see that intermediate states were sometimes involved in their production. They named these intermediate states Pc(4450)+ and Pc(4380)+ and indicate that pentaquarks are at play.