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A New Subatomic Particle Will Help Explain How Atoms Cling Together

Thanks in part to this thing, the atoms in your body don't randomly rip apart.

Thanks to the laws of physics, the atoms that make up everything that exists don't go randomly flying apart all day long. Thanks to a new discovery by those particle-smashing scientists at CERN, we might soon know exactly why the collapse of everything doesn't happen.

We take the fact that atoms stick together for granted, but physicists still understand relatively little about the so-called "strong interaction," the force that holds together protons and neutrons within an atom. We do know, of course, that it's pretty important. We also know that it's much stronger than the other three fundamental forces of physics—electromagnetism, the "weak interaction," and gravity.


This is so incredibly important for our understanding of the universe

So, we know that the strong interaction is strong, because it's got to be in order to hold together two or more protons at the same time. Opposites attract, right? Well, protons hate each other and desperately want to push away from each other—unless they're wrapped up in a strong interaction.

Beyond that, we don't know enough about the interaction to even make predictions about how atoms will behave or understand why it exists, according to Tim Gershon, a researcher at the University of Warwick.

Using data from CERN Large Hadron Collider experiments, Gershon was able to discover a new subatomic particle, which has lovingly been dubbed "Ds3*(2860)ˉ". The particle is a type of meson, which is a particle that's made up of one quark and one antiquark (quarks are the basic building blocks of protons and neutrons). The bond on this newly-discovered particle is very similar, perhaps identical, to that of protons.

All of that is a long way of explaining that, thanks to the discovery of Ds3*(2860)ˉ, scientists can now make testable calculations about the strong interaction that will hopefully explain more about what the heck it is. The strong interaction, after all, is estimated to be 1039 times more powerful than gravity.

"This is so incredibly important for our understanding of the universe," Gershon, whose work will be published in Physical Review Letters, told me. "We have the strong interaction, but we can't solve equations for it, like we can for gravity, because it's so strong."

The new subatomic particle appears to be much easier to detect (now that we know how to look for it) and, so, calculations can be tested experimentally much easier.

"The strong interaction is well established in theory, but there's a large uncertainty about them because it's so difficult to do the calculations," he said. "This opens the door to a whole new level of studies that we can do."