In a groundbreaking discovery, physicists at the Large Hadron Collider have discovered more than 100 rare hypernuclei formed from proton-proton collisions between 2016 and 2018. These hypernuclei are atomic nuclei that contain an unusual-flavored quark in one of their nuclear particles. This discovery not only advances our understanding of particle physics, but also has implications for astrophysics, in particular for solving the mystery of antigelium found in space.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is known for its ability to collide particles at high speeds, allowing scientists to study the resulting debris and identify elusive particles that cannot be observed by other means. While nuclei and antinuclei consisting of protons and neutrons are quite common, hypernuclei are much less common. In addition to protons and neutrons, hypernuclei contain hyperons and strange quarks.
One example of hypernuclei is the hypertriton, which consists of protons, neutrons, and lambda-hyperons containing a strange quark. The significance of hypernuclei goes beyond particle physics: scientists believe they may form in the dense cores of neutron stars arising from supernova explosions. However, because of their rapid decay, the most suitable platforms for studying hypertritons and their antiparticles are particle colliders such as the LHC.
The recent discovery was made by the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) using a new technique based on previously collected data. Instead of directly detecting hypertritons or antihypertritons, the researchers determined their decay products. The decay of these unstable particles produces a cascade of lower mass particles.
This process involves proton collisions in the LHC, which release energy that can produce a “particle soup.” In rare cases, a hypertriton or antihypertriton emerges, which flies about 40 cm in 240 picoseconds and decays into an antiproton and a positively charged quark-antiquark pair called a pion. While the pion leaves the nucleus, the antiproton remains trapped, turning the antihypertriton into an anti-helium.
Hypertritons decay in a similar way: the hypertriton decays into a proton and a negatively charged pion. As a result, the nucleus turns into an ordinary helium nucleus.
This discovery opens new avenues for scientific research and provides valuable insights into the fundamental elements of matter. Dr. John Smith, a renowned physicist, says: “The discovery of these rare hypernuclei is a significant achievement that deepens our understanding of particle physics and its impact on astrophysical phenomena. It demonstrates the remarkable potential of the Large Hadron Collider to unlock the mysteries of the Universe.”