Imagine discovering anything that was around at the birth of the entire universe.
That’s apparently what the Large Hadron Collider has done.
Physicists there are reporting that the world’s biggest atom smasher has uncovered perhaps its biggest mystery ever – a primordial particle that witnessed the beginning of time itself.
The new X particle
Researchers refer to their new discovery as the ‘X’ particle because of its unknown structure. It is estimated that around 100 of these short-lived X particles were observed for the very time amongst trillions of other various subatomic particles within the Large Hadron Collider.
This famous particle accelerator is the world’s largest, located at CERN near Geneva. Many believe that the Large Hadron Collider will discover parallel worlds one day – should they exist.
The newly discovered X particles very likely formed within fractions of a second following the Big Bang. They were first detected within a broth of elementary particles known as a quark-gluon plasma, which had been formed in the collider by smashing lead ions together.
After examining and evaluating these primordial X particles more closely, physicists hope to glean a more accurate idea of how the universe was born.
Scientists taking part in the study believe that this is only the beginning of what’s to come. Now that they know how to find these signals, they will utilize the quark-gluon plasma further to probe the internal structure of the X particle. They believe that doing so will alter their understanding of the kinds of materials the universe should be producing.
Existence after the Big Bang
Researchers have traced the origins of these X particles to some millionths of a second after the Big Bang occurred. This was when the universe existed as a superheated trillion-degree plasma soup that was full of gluons and quarks. From this point, the elementary particles cooled and combined into the stable neutrons and protons that we are familiar with today.
However, right before this cooling took place, a small fraction of quarks and gluons smashed together and formed these short-lived X particles.
Currently, scientists do not know how elementary particles are configuring themselves to create the structure of the X particle. Should they solve this mystery, they’ll have a clearer understanding of the kinds of particles that were in abundance when the universe was created.
Creating the birth of the universe
In order to create the birth of the universe, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider blasted positively charged lead atoms at one another at very high speeds. As the particles collided, momentary bursts of plasma were created that mimicked the primordial soup of the infant universe.
Believe it or not, this was actually the easy part. The difficulty comes when sifting through all the data created from some 13 billion head-on collisions in search of these X particles. In theory, adding more gluons and quarks into the plasma should bolster the production of X particles.
One thing that helped their search is that these particles provide a distinct footprint – it has a unique decay pattern that results in ‘daughter’ particles. These daughter particles move across angle spreads that are far different than other particles – making them easier to find.
Amazingly, after algorithms that search for daughter particles were installed into the program, researchers were able to identify around 100 x particles from a dataset of trillions of various particles.
Now that scientists have clearly identified the X particle’s characteristics, they can now focus on its internal structure. While neutrons and protons comprise three closely bound quarks, the scientists believe that the X particle will have a different configuration altogether.
They are already aware that this new particle has four quarks instead of three. Such particles are called tetraquarks.
These researchers are confident that further studies at the Large Hadron Collider will expand their knowledge about the types of particles that were abundant when the universe was born.