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Doubly charming discovery by LHCb

Although new bound states of quarks are discovered at the rate of (typically) a few per year, the discovery of the Ξcc++ particle is particularly noteworthy as it is the first time that a baryon containing two "heavy" quarks has been seen. This opens new possibilities to investigate the strong nuclear force, which is described by Quantum ChromoDynamics (QCD) within the Standard Model of particle physics. In a doubly heavy baryon, the two heavy quarks are almost static at the centre of the baryon with the lighter quark orbiting around them. This is in some respects analagous to the hydrogen atom, where the electron orbits around the nucleus due to the electromagnetic force (or more precisely, due to Quantum ElectroDynamics, QED).

Doubly heavy baryons have never previously been seen, despite numerous searches. In 2002, the SELEX collaboration at Fermilab in the USA claimed to have observed the singly charged Ξcc+ state (composed of one down and two charm quarks). However, this result was not confirmed by other experiments leading to a long-lasting mystery. Using large and very pure samples of Λc+ baryons combined with negative kaons and two pions (Λc+Kπ+π+) obtained in its data sample collected in 2016, the LHCb collaboration observes a highly significant signal (> 12σ), as shown in the figure, that is identified as the Ξcc++ baryon. While the doubly-charged and singly-charged states are expected to be "partners", the properties of the observed state are not consistent with those expected based on the SELEX results.

LHCb physicists are now planning a set of future studies to search for other members of the baryon family, including the singly charged Ξcc+ state. With more data LHCb will also be able to measure more properties of these Ξcc particles including their lifetimes and rates of production at the LHC.