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Protons contain intrinsic charm quarks, a new study suggests

Protons may be intrinsically charming.

The subatomic particles are a mash-up of three lighter particles called quarks: two of the type known as up quarks and one down quark. But physicists have speculated for decades that protons may also host more massive quarks, called “intrinsic” charm quarks. A new analysis supports that idea, physicists report in the Aug. 18 Nature.

Charm quarks are much heavier than up or down quarks. So heavy that, mind-bendingly, “you can have a component of the proton which is heavier than the proton itself,” says theoretical physicist Juan Rojo of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Rojo and colleagues combined a variety of experimental results and theoretical calculations in hopes of unveiling the proton’s hypothetical charm. Measuring this feature is key to fully understanding one of the most important particles in the universe, Rojo says.

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