Tetra Neutron – Munich physicists discover new particles
For 50 years, physicists have been searching for a particle made up of four neutrons. There is strong evidence that scientists at the Technical University of Munich have now made this discovery.
aTom nuclei are made up of protons and neutrons. Protons are positively charged and neutrons are electrically neutral. An atomic nucleus consisting of one or more protons cannot exist by itself. They will repel and disperse due to their similar charge.
However, there is an interaction between protons and neutrons which makes many protons possible in the nucleus of an atom in the presence of neutrons. Neutrons have the function of cement.
The hydrogen atom contains the only atomic nucleus that does not contain neutrons. Its nucleus consists of only one proton. However, there are also heavy and super-heavy hydrogens in which this proton is accompanied by one or two neutrons. The isotopes of hydrogen even have their own names: deuterium and tritium.
While physicists agree that clumps consisting of only protons are impossible, until now the question was open whether there could be systems consisting of several neutrons. In theory, this should be possible, and for half a century scientists have been searching for a particle with two, three or four neutrons. So far in vain.
Particles at twelve percent of the speed of light
But now a team of physicists from the Technical University of Munich (Tom) in the journal “Physics Letters B” about the discovery of a particle composed of four neutrons. Hence it is called a tetraneutron.
Scientists working with Thomas Westermann launched a solid target made of lithium-7 with high-energy lithium-7 particles, which they set up using the Van de Graaff tandem accelerator. Garching Research Campus It accelerated to about twelve percent of the speed of light. Theoretical considerations had predicted that this collision would produce carbon-10 and the tetraneutron.
In fact, Munich physicists were able to detect carbon 10 over and over again in these experiments. In signing the measurement results, they also found evidence of tetraneutron formation.
Scientists realize that this is only circumstantial evidence, but they are absolutely certain that they succeeded in producing the quaternary neutrons. “For us, this is the only reasonable physical explanation for the measured values at all points,” Westermann says.
A tetraneutron lives about 450 seconds
The researchers were also able to use the data to determine the binding energy of a tetraneutron and, from this time, the time when tetraneutrons can exist. Unlike protons, neutrons are not stable and decay after a certain period of time.
Similar to radioactive decay, here there is also a so-called half-life. For neutrons, this is 450 seconds. This means that after this period of time, half of the particles that were initially present have vanished.
And if neutrons are not stable per se, one cannot expect quaternary neutrons to be either. TUM physicists conclude from their measurements that quaternary neutrons have about the same half-life as neutrons. Quaternary neutrons cannot be used in any practical applications.
The researchers conclude from their measurement data that they detected a tetraneutron with a probability of 99.7%. This sounds good, but it’s far from an officially confirmed find. Strict scientific rules state that “discovery” can only be used with a probability of 99.99997 percent.
The TUM scientists now hope that other research groups will repeat their experiments and in this way provide independent confirmation. Discovering new particles is hard work. The discovery of the famous Higgs boson, announced in 2012, was preceded by years of measurements and evaluations.
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