Scientists on the DZero collaboration at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab, including five physicists from Stony Brook University, have discovered a new particle—the latest member to be added to the exotic species of particle known as tetraquarks.
Over the last 60 years, scientists have observed hundreds of combinations of quark duos and trios.
In 2008 scientists on the Belle experiment in Japan reported the first evidence of quarks hanging out as a foursome, forming a tetraquark. Since then physicists have glimpsed a handful of different tetraquark candidates, including now the recent discovery by DZero—the first observed to contain four different quark flavors.
DZero is one of two experiments at Fermilab’s Tevatron collider. Although the Tevatron was retired in 2011, the experiments continue to analyze billions of previously recorded events from its collisions.
As is the case with many discoveries, the tetraquark observation came as a surprise when DZero scientists first saw hints in July 2015 of the new particle, called X(5568), named for its mass—5568 megaelectronvolts.
“At first, we didn’t believe it was a new particle,” says DZero co-spokesperson Dmitri Denisov. “Only after we performed multiple cross-checks did we start to believe that the signal we saw could not be explained by backgrounds or known processes, but was evidence of a new particle.”
And the X(5568) is not just any new tetraquark. While all other observed tetraquarks contain at least two of the same flavor, X(5568) has four different flavors: up, down, strange and bottom.
“The next question and an extremely important one for current tetraquark research is to understand how the four quarks are put together,” says DZero co-spokesperson Paul Grannis, a Stony Brook University Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Physics. “They could all be scrunched together in one tight ball, or they might be one pair of tightly bound quarks that revolves at some distance from the other pair.”
Professor Grannis added that in the broader picture the research goal is to understand how the strong nuclear force works to bind quarks into observable mesons and baryons. “This is the area of the theory that is incredibly complex and difficult to calculate, therefore going forward many experiments are essential.”
Four-quark states are rare, and although there’s nothing in nature that forbids the formation of a tetraquark, scientists don’t understand them nearly as well as they do two- and three-quark states.
This latest discovery comes on the heels of the first observation of a pentaquark—a five-quark particle—announced last year by the LHCb experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.
Scientists will sharpen their picture of the quark quartet by making measurements of properties such as the ways X(5568) decays or how much it spins on its axis. Like investigations of the tetraquarks that came before it, the studies of the X(5568) will provide another window into the workings of the strong force that holds these particles together.
And perhaps the emerging tetraquark species will become an established class in the future, showing themselves to be as numerous as their two- and three-quark siblings.
“The discovery of a unique member of the tetraquark family with four different quark flavors will help theorists develop models that will allow for a deeper understanding of these particles,” says Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer.
Seventy-five institutions from 18 countries collaborated on this result from DZero.
About Stony Brook University
Part of the State University of New York system, Stony Brook University encompasses 200 buildings on 1,450 acres. Since welcoming its first incoming class in 1957, the University has grown tremendously, now with more than 25,000 students and 2,500 faculty. Its membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 100 universities in the nation and top 40 public universities, and Kiplinger names it one of the 35 best values in public colleges. One of four University Center campuses in the SUNY system, Stony Brook co-manages Brookhaven National Laboratory, putting it in an elite group of universities that run federal research and development laboratories. A global ranking by U.S. News & World Report places Stony Brook in the top 1 percent of institutions worldwide. It is one of only 10 universities nationwide recognized by the National Science Foundation for combining research with undergraduate education. As the largest single-site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook is a driving force of the regional economy, with an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion, generating nearly 60,000 jobs, and accounts for nearly 4 percent of all economic activity in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and roughly 7.5 percent of total jobs in Suffolk County.