The scientists at the Large Hadron Collider facility in Switzerland appears to have found a new and highly elusive particle that has the scientific world very excited. No, it’s not a black hole or another dimension. The discovery is of the theoretical particle known as the tetraquark, and understanding how it works could have a major impact not only on how we view the universe; it could also add a new power to the atomic world. The power of color.
Inside of an atom are things we already know exist: the electron, proton and neutron. Electrons swirl around a dense center made of protons and neutrons giving us the variable forms of matter that make up everything in the universe. Electrons have a negative charge, protons have a positive one and neutrons have a neutral charge. However, this isn’t where the tiniest parts of matter stop. In the last few years we’ve heard of neutrinos, positrons, quarks and the granddaddy of them all, the Higgs-Bosun. Yet it is the quark that is one of the oddest of all of them, and the hardest to research.
What makes quarks strange compared to everything else in quantum physics is that they do not carry a strong electromagnetic charge, giving of about one-third the energy of an electron or proton. Yet quarks are the things that hold atoms together. And the power they use is a nuclear force we call color. Color charge is vastly different from electric charge in that electric charges have only two types of energy, positive and negative, while color energy has three, red, green and blue, as well as their anti-colors of the same name. It is because of the colors that quarks are so difficult to observe, since quarks of different colors bond together which melds their colors into white. So detecting a single color of a quark to understand its properties has been daunting to say the least. However, scientists have learned that it is the interaction of these different colored quarks and their color opposed siblings that make matter what it is and keep it together. By learning how these contrasting colored quarks work, we can begin to understand not only what makes some of the strangest stars in the universe work, but it could unlock the ability to make matter literally from thin air.
Combining quarks into groups of three different colors creates a color neutral particle known as baryons. These are the most common groupings of quarks, and make up the nucleus of most atoms. At least the stable ones. It is countered by a different type of nucleus which is more unstable called mesons which are made of a quark and an anti-quark, (such as a green colored quark and an anti-green quark). Either of these two types of particles reside within the nucleus of an atom which we call a hadron, for which the Large Hadron Collider is named for. But recent experiments at CERN, the facility the collider is located at, has shown the presence of a new grouping of quarks, the tetraquark, that breaks the rules by combining four different types of quarks into one nucleus, leading to the discovery of a new kind of exotic hadron which opens the door to theories of even larger hadrons with more quarks inside the nucleus. But getting this far has been quite a journey already, and a great deal of experimentation will be needed on the tetraquark before science is ready to take the plunge into the theories this discovery unlocks.
The Bell experiment in Japan in 2003 was the first to take a glimpse at the tetraquark, finding a particle that wasn’t like the rest they had observed. The particle was named X(3872). The X in the name meant that there were questions about its properties that needed further testing and evaluation. The numbers following it corresponded to the mass of the particle they had found. There the theory of the tetraquark sat with little more known about it until 2007 when the CERN team used the Large Hadron Collider and observed the Z(4430) state, a ccdu tetraquark candidate. Discoveries in 2009, 2010 and 2013 helped to solidify the theory, though no actual observation of a tetraquark had been observed. It wasn’t until April of 2014 that CERN finally saw the actual “mega-quark” with their own eyes. The reason for the difficulty in finding the tetraquark is the same problem they had with normal quarks in baryons and mesons. They all look white no matter how many quarks are inside. And the nuclear force that holds them together is so strong that, in general, no quark can ever escape the bond. Thus, if a quark of any color were to be torn away from the others, it would be instantly drawn to any other atomic nucleus. I guess you could say it doesn’t ever want to be away from friends. Still, it is in this milli-micro second where two hadrons are smashed together and obliterated that CERN employees were able to discover its presence.
So what does this mean for humanity? Well, to start, understanding that four quarks can come together and still show off a neutral white color means there is far more going on inside the center of atoms than we ever could have imagined. This means we have a far better understanding of some of the strangest stars in our universe, the neutron star. Previous evidence had spawned the belief that only three quark neutrons were what made up these stars, with the only real interaction of particles within that star being the neutrons themselves. However, with the discovery of the tetraquark, the floodgates are now open to solidify into reality the theory of a new classification of stars known as Quark Stars. In these stars the quarks are the big powerhouses, and with the mass and pressure these stars have, even grander forms of quarks, such as pentaquarks and hexaquarks that could act individually without being bound to color neutral particles. Which would make their observation of one of the most difficult to understand pieces of reality much easier. Once we fully understand how the color combinations work within these exotic quarks, as well as the normal ones, in making matter, it won’t be that far off that we can use these particles to make such wondrous things as the holodeck from the show Star Trek. Beyond that, it could open an entirely new way to combat diseases and cancer by simply changing the light spectrum within it.
Of course all this is still hypothetical at this point, but the discovery of the tetraquark is pulling all the many possibilities that much closer to reality.
— New Scientist (@newscientist) April 10, 2014
— Nature News&Comment (@NatureNews) April 11, 2014
Race down the Hadron tunnel with Inquisitr’s brilliant beauty Page Mackinley as she looks into what’s next for the big tube: https://www.inquisitr.com/464628/large-hadron-collider-beyond-the-higgs-boson-the-search-for-extra-dimensions-other-universes-and-more-continues/
Did a man from the future visit CERN, the home of the Large Hadron Collider, to warn us of our impending doom? It’s crazy, but it may have happened! http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2010/04/man-from-the-future-arrested-at-cerns-lhc-escaped-custody-revealed-true-identity.html