New subatomic particle, the “tetraquark,” constitutes an entirely new form of matter

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FINDING: Once again, there is much more going on in the universe than we thought we knew. Quarks combine in twos and threes to create protons and neutrons, which were formerly believed to be the basic building blocks of all matter. Confirming the existence of four-quark atomic particles opens the door to all sorts of new kinds of matter that might behave in all sorts of strange ways. If the “purely hypothetical” tetraquark is real, and we now know how to make one, “pentaquarks” and “hexaquarks” have moved from being “fanciful imaginations” to being acceptable topics for supercollider research.

IMPLICATIONS: So far, the only implications are philosophical. But the philosophical implications are profound. Over and over again, humanity’s scientific community has conveyed the impression that it has reached certain limits of knowledge about the world we live in: This is the smallest possible particle, and these are the only ways it behaves… This is the size of the universeThis is the age of the universeThe speed of light never changes… and each time those truths were made “doctrine,” the scientific community has had to eat humble pie.

Well, humanity’s scientific community apparently got used to eating that pie, because it now holds even its basic tenets with a gentle grip. We now know the universe still holds a great many secrets, none of them boring or simplistic! And most of them will be beautiful if we behold them in the right perspective.

Even though last week’s discovery makes all current physics textbooks obsolete, it has been welcomed by physicists as another reason for wonder and awe, another motive to keep exploring even those crannies of creation we thought we had all figured out.

Has humanity’s scientific community arrived at the same spot as its religious community, seeing all creation as wondrous, awe-inspiring, and always full of surprises? If so, what does this imply about its Creator?


The newly nabbed Z(4430) is one of a handful of suspected tetraquarks that have been found in recent years… the particle’s existence was questioned after the BaBar detector at the SLAC accelerator in Menlo Park, California, subsequently failed to find it.

Now the LHCb experiment… has analysed 10 times as much data… and says it has found as many as 4000 of the particles.

Gathering more data on how this particle decays could help shed light on whether it is a tetraquark or something else. And that could help researchers get to grips with how matter behaves at the most basic scales. Could quarks bind together in even larger groups, for example? Previous hints of five-quark groupings, called pentaquarks, have mostly disappeared in recent years, but they have not been fully ruled out, says Karliner.

“What determines who can bind together and who can’t?” he asks. “It’s completely uncharted territory.”

There has been some experimental hints of tetraquarks, but this latest result is the strongest evidence of 4 quarks forming a color-neutral particle.  This means that quarks can combine in much more complex ways than we originally expected, and this has implications for the internal structure of neutron stars.


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