Strange Particle Created; May Rewrite How Matter's Made

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
March 20, 2009

An unexpected new subatomic particle has been discovered in Illinois's Fermilab atom smasher, scientists announced this week.

The new particle may break all known rules for creating matter, say the researchers who created the oddity.

Y(4140)—as the new particle has been dubbed—couldn't have formed through either of the two known models for matter creation. Researchers aren't even sure what Y(4140) is made of.

It's long been accepted that six different "flavors" of particles called quarks combine to form larger subatomic particles.

In one method, a quark pairs with one of its opposites, an antiquark, to create a type of matter called a meson. In the second method, three quarks gather to form baryons, such as protons and neutrons.

(Related: "Bulk of Missing 'Normal' Matter Found in Cosmic Web.")

"The surprise about this new particle that we found is that it's not predicted by any of these rules," said Jacobo Konigsberg of the University of Florida.

"From what we know, if you tried to put a set of quarks or antiquarks together you couldn't build these particles."

Smash Hits

Particle physicists explore the origins of matter by smashing two streams of particles into each other at nearly the speed of light and sorting through the exotic, short-lived particles that are produced.

"The idea is that you collide protons and antiprotons in a very small point in space and release a lot of energy—equivalent to [the energy] the universe had at the very early stages of its birth," Konigsberg explained.

"Then nature creates whatever it can create," said the physicist, who co-authored a paper about the new particle submitted to the journal Physical Review Letters.

Continued on Next Page >>


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