Top boffins at the Large Hadron Collider – mightiest particle-punisher and largest machine of any kind ever assembled by humanity – say that they may have uncovered a vital clue explaining one of the greatest mysteries of physics: namely, how is it that matter itself can exist?
This is a mystery because the so-called Standard Model of physics calls for ordinary matter and antimatter to decay in very similar ways. Theory also says that equal amounts of antimatter and regular-type matter (such as that making up the Sun, the Earth, all the life upon it including us etc) should have been brought into existence by Big Bang. And yet here we are in a universe containing stupendo-vastnesses of common-or-garden matter and very little antimatter at all. Which is just as well, as if there were theoretically explicable quantities of the stuff about it would annihilate itself and us in cataclysmically powerful explosions of pure energy.
One of the things the Hadron Collider can do by means of blasting protons into one another head-on at just a gnat's chuff less than light speed is create all sorts of very rare and exotic particles – and the antimatter versions of themselves. Almost anything you might want in the way of crazy particles will appear in the shattered sub-subatomic wreckage spraying out of the proton pileups on the Collider's 27km underground orbital motorway.
The boffins of the LHCb detector instrument typically focus on so-called "beauty" quarks (that's what the little b stands for). Lately, however, they've decided that they like charm more than beauty, and have taken to probing the decay of D mesons made from a charm quark and an "up" antiquark as compared to the decay of their antimatter counterpart – which as any fule would kno is composed of a charm antiquark bound with an "up" quark.
It now appears that in fact the mesons and anti-mesons decayed in a noticeably different fashion from one another based upon results so far. This could still be a coincidence – one equivalent at this stage to flipping a coin and getting heads eight times running. But there's more data to plough through and the LHCb crew hope to demonstrate that in fact their charm-quark mesons are behaving in a fashion that Standard Model physics cannot account for – and which might help to account for the bizarre fact that we and the universe exist at all.
There's more here from the LHCb team (warning: non-physicists are advised to don a reinforced hat of some type to prevent head explosion before attempting to grasp this) or slightly more accesibly here. ®