A worldwide team of researchers, including 10 from Texas A&M University, have for the first time created a particle that is believed to have been in existence immediately after the creation of the universe – the so-called "Big Bang" – and it could lead to new questions and answers about some of the basic laws of physics because in essence, it creates a new form of matter.
Researchers Carl Gagliardi, Saskia Mioduszewski, Robert Tribble, Matthew Cervantes, Rory Clarke, Martin Codrington, Pibero Djawotho, James Drachenberg, Ahmed Hamed and Liaoyuan Huo, all affiliated with the Texas A&M Cyclotron Institute, along with numerous researchers from universities and labs all over the world, have created the anti-hypertriton – a never-before-seen particle – by colliding gold nuclei at extremely high speeds. Their work is published in the current issue of Science Express.
Using the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., the team used particles of gold and collided them just short of the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). More than 100 million collisions were made to collect the data.
"We know that some new particles of matter were formed immediately after the Big Bang, but they were gone within a millionth of a second or so," explains Gagliardi.
"By accelerating the gold (gold was selected because it is very heavy) at extremely high speeds, we were able to replicate the conditions right after the Big Bang. It's very much like when two cars collide at high speeds – you would have a lot of hot metal.
"At a temperature of about two trillion degrees, which is about 100,000 times hotter than the surface of the sun, we were able to produce a new form of matter."
As this new form of matter evolves, it expands and cools and eventually decays. When it does so, the majority of it converts back into ordinary matter, but a large amount converts into anti-matter instead, Gagliardi points out.
"This enables us to see things we have never seen before," Gagliardi adds.
"We found evidence of particles called anti-lambdas bound within the anti-nuclei. The anti-lambda has a lifetime of less than one-billionth of a second, which on a nuclear time scale, is actually a long amount of time. It gives us a framework to make sort of a 3D periodic table of the elements, from matter to anti-matter. This now gives us a new class of matter to study, one we think should be a mirror image of our world. But a big question is, how accurate is that mirror?"
Gagliardi says it's been known that the Big Bang made equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, but over time, something has tripped the balance for life to exist – there is more matter today than anti-matter.
"So why is this?" he asks.
"We may be able to answer these questions in the future."
Mioduszewski adds, "These new findings give us a large new source of hypernuclei. They provide us with a new way to study the forces that act inside atomic nuclei, and might teach us about the forces that act in the center of the neutron stars.
"This has opened up a very big door for us."