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Physics + MathPhysics & Math

Meet the LHC’s Latest Discovery, the Long-Sought Pentaquark

Physicists have been hunting the elusive particle for more than 50 years.

ByAbbey InterranteNOVA NextNOVA Next
A visualization of the decay of a pentaquark

The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, has given physicists yet another gift—physical proof of the existence of the pentaquark, a new form of matter that might be created in collapsing stars.

Scientists at the LHCb detector, where they are researching what happened after the Big Bang, recently found signs of the pentaquark in a powerful proton collision. They checked every avenue to make sure their results were correct, because so many have been wrong before. This time, they were able to view the collision from multiple angles. Dr. Patrick Koppenburg, physics coordinator for the LHCb, told BBC News , “There is no way that what we see could be due to something else other than the addition of a new particle that was not observed before.”

Quarks are fundamental units of matter and make up everything that exists. There are six types: up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom. When Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig created the quark model in the 1960s, they suggested the existence of the pentaquark, which is created when five quarks combine. About a decade ago, several different teams thought they had found the elusive particle, but each claim was eventually shown to be incorrect.

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Ian Sample, of The Guardian, explains their discovery further:

“Researchers on the LHCb team found evidence for pentaquarks after studying the disintegration of an unstable ball of three quarks called a Lambda baryon. The exotic pentaquarks they observed are made up of two up quarks, one down quark, one charm quark and one anti-charm quark.”

These results offer further clues about the aftermath of the Big Bang. Pentaquarks could form when stars collapse into neutron stars or potentially black holes—influencing what they look like and where they go in their life cycle. Not only that, but this could provide additional information about particles that underpin all matter.

Physicists expect to find more pentaquarks in the future since the LHC is running at its highest energy levels ever after a two-year hibernation for maintenance.

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Image credit: CERN