Pentaquarks Have Physicists Psyched—And Baffled

Sophia Chen at Wired:

GettyImages-466770936-582x466Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider have been smashing protons together, on and off, since 2009. On Tuesday they announced that they’d encountered a new particle as a result of all those subatomic crack-ups called the pentaquark—and it could help explain what holds together other subatomic particles like protons and neutrons.

Close followers of the saga responded to the news like hungry Star Wars fans to a new trailer, immediately formulating potential plotlines for the particle. Within 30 hours of the announcement, physicists began to submittheir theories about the pentaquark to the online, pre-peer review science article repository arXiv. But assembling those papers is hard—and these scientists didn’t come up with their new theories overnight. How did they get it done so fast? As is wont to happen with any big reveal, somebody in the research team leaked the inside scoop.

“Despite everyone’s good intentions, rumors do spread,” says Guy Wilkinson, the spokesperson for the LHCb (that stands for Large Hadron Collider Beauty experiment), the research team that found the particle in several years worth of data. The leak isn’t surprising, considering the team consists of over 1,100 members from 16 different countries.

So why does the pentaquark have so many fans? After all, its origin story isn’t fresh: Physicists predicted the particle existed over 30 years ago, after they first put forth the theory that protons, neutrons, and other so-called hadrons were made of even smaller particles called quarks.

More here.