Collisions between particles inside the Large Hadron Collider atom smasher have created what looks like a new form of matter.
The new kind of matter is called color-glass condensate, and is a liquidlike wave of gluons, which are elementary particles related to the strong force that sticks quarks together inside protons and neutrons (hence they are like “glue”).
Scientists didn’t expect this kind of matter would result from the type of particle collisions going on at the Large Hadron Collider at the time. However, it may explain some odd behavior seen inside the machine, which is a giant loop where particles race around underneath Switzerland and France.
When scientists sped up protons (one of the building blocks of atoms) and lead ions (lead atoms, which contain 82 protons each, stripped of their electrons), and crashed them into each other, the resulting explosions liquefied those particles and gave rise to new particles in their wake. Most of these new particles, as expected, fly off in all directions at close to the speed of light. [ Photos: The World’s Largest Atom Smasher (LHC) ]
But recently scientists noticed that some pairs of particles were flying off from the collision point in correlated directions.
“Somehow they fly at the same direction even though it’s not clear how they can communicate their direction with one another. That has surprised many people, including us,” MIT physicist Gunther Roland, whose group led the analysis of the collision data along with Wei Li of Rice University, said in a statement.
A similar flight pattern is seen when two heavy particles, such as lead and lead, crash into each other. In this case, the collisions create what’s called quark-gluon plasma — a superhot soup of particles similar to the state of the universe just after the Big Bang. This soup can sweep particles in the same direction, explaining why their flight directions would be correlated.