ATLAS discovers its first new particle
December 22, 2011
The ATLAS collaboration has announced the discovery of the b(3P), which is a bound state of a bottom quark and bottom antiquark (). Bound states of a heavy quark and its antiquark are collectively called quarkonium. They are the QCD (Quantum Chromodynamics or strong force) analogues of the hydrogen atom, with each new particle corresponding to a different energy level. For states, the P states are called b (chi b) and the S states (upsilon). Like the hydrogen atom, we can observe transitions between these states through emission of a photon , and this new state was discovered through the radiative transitions b(3P) → (1S) + and transitions
b(3P) → (2S) + followed by the decay of the upsilon (itself a lighter quarkonium state) to two muons.
The figure on the right shows the spectrum of the states: the leftmost peak is the b(1P), the middle one the b(2P), and the rightmost the new b(3P). The photons are detected either by the electromagnetic calorimeter (unconverted) or by the ATLAS tracking detectors if they have interacted with material and converted to an e+e− pair.
As we learned about the hydrogen atom by studying its energy levels, we can learn about the forces binding quarks together by studying the energy levels of quarkonium states. The b(3P) is just at the very limit of being bound, so the quark and antiquark are about as far apart from each other as they can possibly be. One surprise is that the b(3P) is slightly heavier than predicted, meaning the quark anti-quark pair is a little more loosely bound than expected.
Also in analogy with atomic physics, the visible peaks contain internal structure due to hyperfine splitting among states of different angular momentum. These could be resolved with future data samples.
Normally, a new particle is discovered in one or at most two channels, and the first discovery is at the very edge of statistical significance. b(3P) is different: it's seen in three different channels, and the peaks are unmistakable. The outstanding LHC performance is responsible for this by delivering so many collisions in such a short time.
A publication has been submitted to Physical Review Letters.