(ORDO NEWS) — New research suggests that protons may have more “charm” than we thought.
The proton is one of the subatomic particles that make up the nucleus of an atom. As small as protons are, they are made up of even smaller subatomic particles known as quarks, which come in many flavors or types: up, down, weird, lovely, down, and up.
A proton is usually considered to be composed of two up quarks and one down quark. But a new study has shown that things are much more complicated.
Protons can also contain a charmed quark, a 1.5 elementary particle. times the mass of the proton itself. Even stranger, when the proton does contain a charmed quark, the heavy particle still only carries half the mass of the proton.
All conclusions are reduced to the probabilistic world of quantum physics. Although a charmed quark is heavy, the probability of it appearing in a proton is quite low, so the high mass and low probability mostly cancel each other out.
In other words, the total mass of a charm quark is not absorbed by a proton, even if a charm quark exists, Science News reports.
Although protons are the basis of the structure of atoms that make up all matter, they are also very complex.
Physicists don’t really know the fundamental structure of protons. Quantum physics believes that in addition to the known up and down quarks, other quarks can turn into protons from time to time, Stefano Forte, a physicist at the University of Milan, told the Nature Briefing podcast.
Forte. was the co-author of a new paper showing evidence for the charm of quarks in protons, published in the journal Nature on 17 August.
There are six types of quarks. Three of them are heavier than protons, and three are lighter than protons. The charm quark is the lightest of the heavy group, so the researchers wanted to start with it to see if the proton could contain a quark heavier than itself. They did this by applying a new approach to 35 years of particle collision experience.
To learn about the structure of subatomic and elementary particles, researchers hurl particles at each other at incredible speeds at particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest atomic accelerator, located near Geneva.
Scientists with the non-profit collaboration NNPDF have collected this particle breaking data since the 1980s, including examples of experiments in which photons, electrons, muons, neutrinos, and even other protons were broken into protons.
By looking at the debris from these collisions, researchers can reconstruct the original state of the particles.
In the new study, the scientists fed all this collision data to a machine learning algorithm designed to look for patterns without any preconceived notions of what the structures might look like.
The algorithm returned the possible structures and the probability that they could actually exist.
The study found a “small but not negligible” chance of finding a charmed quark, Forte reports Nature Briefing. The level of evidence was insufficient for researchers to announce the undeniable discovery of a charmed quark in protons, Forte said, but the results are “the first hard evidence” that it might exist there.
The structure of the proton is important, Forte says, because to discover new elementary particles, physicists will have to find subtle differences between what theories suggest and what is actually observed. This requires extremely precise measurements of subatomic structures.
For now, physicists still need more data on the elusive “charm” inside the proton. Future experiments, such as the planned Electron-Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, could help, Tim Hobbs, a theoretical physicist at the Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, told Science News.
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