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CERN’s Large Hadron Collider Adds Two New Subatomic Particles to the List

By Ryan Wallace staff@sciencetimes.com | Nov 20, 2014 08:51 PM EST

There's an art in the science of CERN's Large Hadron Collider. It's not simply a method for smashing atoms together, but rather it's a uniquely painstaking process that can reveal some of the smallest hidden secrets our world has to offer. And while the particles that CERN researchers are studying may be smaller than the smallest atom, by bringing to light quantifiably distinct particles only often thought of in physical theory courses, the discovery of every new particle is a large step forward for the advancements of mankind's science.

Now, not every particle they find is as tiny as the electron, however, this week CERN's researchers in Europe revealed in the journal Physical Review Letters that they have definitively added two new subatomic particles to the shortlist of those discovered to date. And while they may be small, the researchers are saying that they are six times as massive as protons.

"It's reassuring" study coauthor and particle physicist at the French National Center for Scientific Research's LPNHE Laboratory, Matthew Charles says. "Not only did we find them, but we got to make very precise measurements of their properties - in particular their masses."

Known as Xi_b'- and Xi_b*-, the two new members of the subatomic family are classified as "baryons", a group that includes protons and neutrons made up of even tinier building blocks called quarks. And these two baryons in particular are composed of "beauty" quarks, which are super-heavy and formidable in their mass.

Though the two new baryons have the same quarks as one another, they are slightly different in their configurations which give them distinctly different properties, including their electrical spins and the amount of energy each one carries.

The discovery reported this week was derived from data collected in 2011 and 2012 at the CERN collider near Geneva, Switzerland, and was uncovered by researchers of CERN's Large Hadron Collider beauty experiment team (LHCb). And the while the researchers hypothesize that the subatomic particles are  a vital component of many atoms we see in our world, the two baryons were discovered amongst the subatomic detritus left after the giant, ring-shaped collider smashed proton beams together.

And though in spite of the surmounting difficulties in sifting out these tiny particles, the researchers were able to identify the "needles in the haystack" and were pleased to find clear signs that not only provided evidence that the baryons existed, but also revealed their properties as well.

"As soon as we actually looked at the data, they immediately jumped right out. There's absolutely no question" Charles says. "That was a very nice surprise."

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