After restarting to run at higher power than ever, the Large Hadron Collider has made its first proper discovery. Today, a team of scientists announced that they’ve found a new class of sub-atomic particles known as pentaquarks.
Quarks are a series of charged sub-atomic particles that come together to form larger particles—such as protons and neutrons, which are each made of three of the things (a class of particle referred to as baryons). First proposed in 1964 by American physicist Murray Gell-Mann, their existence changed the way people thought about particle physicists.
But quarks can come together to form other entities, too. For a long time, people have speculated that another class of quark ensemble, called the pentaquark, could in theory exist. The pentaquark is, perhaps unsurprisingly, supposed to be made up of five smaller entities—four quarks and an anti-quark. Now, for the first time, researchers working on the LHCb experiment at the Collider have found evidence for their existence.
“The pentaquark is not just any new particle,” said Guy Wilkinson from the LHCb in a press release. “It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over fifty years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted.”
The team has identified the existence of the peantaquark by watching for the decay of a baryon known as Lambda b. As it split up into three well-known particles—well known to physicists at least: a J-psi, a proton and a charged kaon, if you’re keeping track—the scientists observed a transition state in which two previously unobserved particles could be identified.
“Benefiting from the large data set provided by the LHC, and the excellent precision of our detector, we have examined all possibilities for these signals, and conclude that they can only be explained by pentaquark states”, says LHCb physicist Tomasz Skwarnicki in a press release. “More precisely the states must be formed of two up quarks, one down quark, one charm quark and one anti-charm quark.”
Now, the scientists will study study the finer structure of the pentaquarks, to understand exactly how they’re bound together. It’s not the dark matter that CERN researchers are eventually hoping to find with the newly high-powered Collider, but it’s still another milestone in particle physics.
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NASA scientists counted down the last few seconds remaining in their mission to Pluto — a mission that has taken 3,463 days, or approximately 9 1/2 years, to finally come to fruition.
And NASA couldn’t be prouder.
For decades, the Plutonian system was the only one of the original 9 planetary systems in the solar neighborhood unexplored by the space agency.
Now, NASA has become the first to ever reach the dwarf planet and its moons and can finally fill in that empty check box marked "Pluto."
The atmosphere in the mission operations center at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory was electric as the final seconds ticked down to zero.
At that very moment, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was at its closest approach to Pluto, within 7,600 miles of the surface.
The mission operations center was excited, to say the least when that final moment came:
The next second, it was about eight miles farther, speeding away at over 30,000 miles per hour.
As the celebrations commence, Stern and the rest of the New Horizons team know that the real test has yet to come.
They meticulously calculated the spacecraft’s flyby past Pluto down to the very second. So, at exactly 7:49:57 am ET, they knew that New Horizons should be zipping past Pluto collecting enough scientific data to keep the team busy until next year.
However, the team can only hope at this time that the flyby was successful.
"There’s a little bit of drama because this is true exploration," said Alan Stern, principal investigator of New Horizons, at a NASA briefing.
there’s a little bit of drama because this is true exploration
Because the instruments on board New Horizons are busy collecting as much data as possible, the spacecraft cannot sacrifice a single second to inform its team of its status. There’s even a tiny chance that something could have gone wrong with the flyby.
The scientists won’t know, however, until 8:53 pm ET this evening. That’s when they expect to receive confirmation from New Horizons to learn about how the flyby went, what data was collected, and what condition the spacecraft is in.
Therefore, while the celebrations this morning mark the exact moment of the historic flyby, there’s still a second celebration in order later tonight.
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After a nine-year, 3-billion-mile journey through the solar system, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to Pluto on Tuesday morning.
The mission control center in Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory outside Baltimore erupted in applause as the spacecraft came within 7,800 miles of Pluto at 7:49 a.m. ET. For space geeks everywhere, emotions were running high as the highly anticipated moment played out
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