A Decades-Long Quest Reveals New Details of Antimatter

It typically goes unmentioned that protons, the positively charged matter particles on the heart of atoms, are half antimatter.

We study at school {that a} proton is a bundle of three elementary particles referred to as quarks—two “up” quarks and a “down” quark, whose electrical prices (+2/3 and −1/3, respectively) mix to present the proton its cost of +1. However that simplistic image glosses over a far stranger, as-yet-unresolved story.

In actuality, the proton’s inside swirls with a fluctuating quantity of six varieties of quarks, their oppositely charged antimatter counterparts (antiquarks), and “gluon” particles that bind the others collectively, morph into them, and readily multiply. Someway, the roiling maelstrom winds up completely steady and superficially easy—mimicking, in sure respects, a trio of quarks. “The way it all works out, that’s fairly frankly one thing of a miracle,” mentioned Donald Geesaman, a nuclear physicist at Argonne Nationwide Laboratory in Illinois.

Thirty years in the past, researchers found a placing function of this “proton sea.” Theorists had anticipated it to comprise a good unfold of differing types of antimatter; as an alternative, down antiquarks appeared to considerably outnumber up antiquarks. Then, a decade later, one other group noticed hints of puzzling variations within the down-to-up antiquark ratio. However the outcomes had been proper on the sting of the experiment’s sensitivity.


So, 20 years in the past, Geesaman and a colleague, Paul Reimer, launched into a brand new experiment to analyze. That experiment, referred to as SeaQuest, has lastly completed, and the researchers report their findings within the journal Nature. They measured the proton’s internal antimatter in additional element than ever earlier than, discovering that there are, on common, 1.4 down antiquarks for each up antiquark.

Illustration: Samuel Velasco/Quanta Journal

The info instantly favors two theoretical fashions of the proton sea. “That is the primary actual proof backing up these fashions that has come out,” mentioned Reimer.

One is the “pion cloud” mannequin, a well-liked, decades-old strategy that emphasizes the proton’s tendency to emit and reabsorb particles referred to as pions, which belong to a gaggle of particles generally known as mesons. The opposite mannequin, the so-called statistical mannequin, treats the proton like a container full of gasoline.

Deliberate future experiments will assist researchers select between the 2 photos. However whichever mannequin is correct, SeaQuest’s exhausting information in regards to the proton’s internal antimatter can be instantly helpful, particularly for physicists who smash protons collectively at practically gentle pace in Europe’s Giant Hadron Collider. After they know precisely what’s within the colliding objects, they will higher piece via the collision particles on the lookout for proof of new particles or results. Juan Rojo of VU College Amsterdam, who helps analyze LHC information, mentioned the SeaQuest measurement “may have a huge impact” on the seek for new physics, which is at present “restricted by our data of the proton construction, specifically of its antimatter content material.”

Three’s Firm

For a quick interval round half a century in the past, physicists thought they’d the proton sorted.

In 1964, Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig independently proposed what grew to become generally known as the quark mannequin—the concept protons, neutrons and associated rarer particles are bundles of three quarks (as Gell-Mann dubbed them), whereas pions and different mesons are made of one quark and one antiquark. The scheme made sense of the cacophony of particles spraying from high-energy particle accelerators, since their spectrum of prices may all be constructed out of two- and three-part combos. Then, round 1970, researchers at Stanford’s SLAC accelerator appeared to triumphantly confirm the quark model once they shot high-speed electrons at protons and noticed the electrons ricochet off objects inside.

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