Large Hadron Collider Discovers Long-Elusive 'Pentaquark' Particle

A new kind of subatomic particle long sought by scientists has been detected.

July 14, 2015, 4:24 PM
PHOTO: Illustration of the possible layout of the quarks in a pentaquark particle such as those discovered at LHCb.
Illustration of the possible layout of the quarks in a pentaquark particle such as those discovered at LHCb.

— -- The world's largest atom smasher has made a discovery that was five decades in the making.

Scientists with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known by its French acronym CERN) today announced the detection of a new kind of subatomic particle called the pentaquark, which essentially means a new form of matter has been discovered. The findings have now been submitted to the journal Physical Review Letters.

The pentaquark was first predicted in the 1960s but actual detection of the particle had eluded scientists for decades. A quark is the term for the building blocks that make up hadrons. (Protons and neutrons are among the best known hadrons.)

Before the discovery of five quarks bound together in a hadron, only hadrons with two or three quarks were known to exist, along with evidence of some subatomic particles made of four quarks.

"Every particle we're aware of, except for a few oddballs, is made up of quark and anti-quark, or three quarks. That's what builds up the mass of the universe, what makes you and me and the Earth and the sun," Eric Swanson, a theoretical physicist at the University of Pittsburgh, told the Associated Press. "This, if verified, should be the beginning of a whole new form of matter."

The Large Hadron Collider, which sits deep underground on the border of France and Switzerland, revved back to life in April after two years of maintenance.

It had previous success in 2012, solving one of the universe's mysteries when the machine discovered experimental evidence for the Higgs boson particle. Nicknamed the "God particle" by some, it is believed to explain how other particles get their mass.

The finding earned Peter Higgs and Francois Englert the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics.

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