The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is most famous for discovering the Higgs Boson, but that’s not all that it’s been able to do. With the goal of giving us a better idea of what happened during the Big Bang that created the Universe, the LHC has created entirely new, exotic states of matter that only existed for a fraction of a second at the very instant of our Universe’s birth, including a rare type of particle made up of four quarks, one extra than what we consider to be normal.
A quark is not just a quirky character from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It’s a fundamental component of the protons and neutrons inside an atom’s nucleus. Most matter in nature that we’re aware of only has two or three quarks at a time, so finding particles with four quarks is extremely rare, and takes an enormous amount of energy that can only be created by the LHC (or perhaps some cosmic rays). These four-quark particles are referred to as Z particles, and those created by CERN are specifically Z(4430). Z particles only happen when there is extreme energy present, so they are thought to have existed right after the Big Bang for a few microseconds. Needless to say, evidence of their existence confirms much of what we know about our Universe, although understanding these particles could eventually change some of that knowledge.
Four-quark particles have purportedly been created before, but their existence in those experiments was always questioned. The new CERN experiment, however, has a high enough statistical significance, and good supporting data, that results are “indisputable” proof of their creation of Z(4430). But that begs the question: are there other four-quark particles we’re unaware of? The answer is likely. Also, what role, if any, did these four-quark particles play during the Big Bang? Perhaps CERN and their LHC can answer that question in the future.