Entry 678: Atomic Bond

Hello again, boys and girls. It’s Mr. Sciencemoron, and I’m back with more news from the Large Hadron Collider!

Almost exactly two years ago, I told you about the amazing pentaquark. It was a sub-atomic particle the large hadron scientists had discovered. Somewhat disconcertingly, they had no idea what it did or what it was for, but they made a nice artist’s rendering of it so they could put up framed copies in the hall.

But now they’ve got their collider running on all cylinders (or whatever the hell it runs on), and they’ve been banging their hadrons together at a frantic pace. And they’re finding new sub-atomic particles all the time! In fact, earlier this year they found five in one day!

Now, kiddies, you may be wondering just how many sub-atomic particles there can possibly be, considering how small atoms are in the first place. Well let me try to explain it to you.

In the center of an atom you’ve got your nucleus, and inside of that are neutrons and protons. Inside of those, you’ve got Up and Down quarks, which can be distinguished by small arrows that light up green or red. And then there are heavier versions of Up and Down quarks called “Charm” and “Strange.” Seriously. I don’t know how they name these things but, in the future, they may want to put it up for a vote among non-nerds.

As you might expect, children, all these particles are teeny tiny. Imagine you’ve got a snow
globe of, say, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. You shake it up and the grains of sand (because it’s Florida) start swirling around in the liquid, eventually landing on the little people with their walkers and their pastel jogging suits. Now imagine that the entire snow globe is one atom, and it’s the size of just one of those grains of sand, and that everything inside the snow globe has been shrunk accordingly to fit into that one grain of sand. That will give you an idea of how many old people there are in Ft. Lauderdale.

Where was I?

Right–new particles. So the five particles they found in one day are even heavier than the Charm and Strange quarks. They’re called Omega-C. I think I took one of those with my other vitamins this morning.

According to one of the collider scientists, this was “… a striking discovery that will shed light on how quarks bind together. It may have implications not only to better understand protons and neutrons, but also more exotic multi-quark states, such as pentaquarks and tetraquarks.”

It had been previously thought that quarks bound together with a mysterious “glue,” possibly Elmer’s. But I’ll tell you this: with all these directional quarks and charmed quarks and exotic quarks and multi-quarks, I sure hope these folks have all their quarks in a row. Because if they’re not bound tightly enough, they could get loose, and then who knows what could happen?

Things could really get quarked up.

Anyway, here is a chart with all the parts of the atom. (continued below)

Unfortunately, the chart above is already obsolete, because now they’ve found still another particle! Scientists have announced “The first unambiguous sighting of the ‘doubled charmed Xi.’” There had been previous sightings, but some people thought it was just a dust mote.

The new particle is composed of two heavy Charm quarks and one Up quark. Charm quarks love Up quarks, so these two are very fortunate. If you’re the type of person, like Mr. Sciencemoron, who will go far out of his way for a pun, you might even say they were lucky Charms.

You may be wondering how the discovery of the double charmed Xi affects you, you self-centered little creatures. Well I’ll let Prof. Marek Karliner of the School of Physics and Astronomy at Tel Aviv University tell you:

”The existence of the six quarks and the understanding of the strong forces acting between them are very relevant to understanding the history of the universe, to the understanding of the relative frequency of the various chemical elements, to understanding the stability of atoms and the solution to the question of why the universe contains so much matter and so little anti-matter.”

He adds, “The importance of the discovery does not affect our day-to-day life.”

Oh, well never mind.

See you soon.

P.S. One more thing, boys and girls: you’ll be well-advised to completely ignore this post when working on your paper for AP Physics.

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