LHCb explores dark-sector confinement

25 September 2020

A report from the LHCb experiment

Fig. 1.

The possibility that dark-matter particles may interact via an unknown force, felt only feebly by Standard Model (SM) particles, has motivated substantial efforts to search for dark forces. The force-carrying particle for such hypothesised interactions is often referred to as a dark photon, in analogy with the ordinary photon that mediates the electromagnetic interaction.

In the minimal dark-photon scenario, the dark photon does not couple directly to SM particles; however, quantum-mechanical mixing between the photon and dark-photon fields can generate a small interaction, providing a portal through which dark photons may be produced and through which they might decay into visible final states.

Hidden-valley scenarios exhibit confinement in the dark sector, similarly to how the strong nuclear force confines quarks

While the minimal dark-photon model is both compelling and simple, it is not the only viable dark-sector scenario. Many other well-motivated dark-sector models exist, and some of these would have avoided detection in all previous experimental searches. Fully exploring the space of dark sectors is vital given the lack of signals observed thus far in the simplest scenarios. For example, so-called hidden-valley (HV) scenarios exhibit confinement in the dark sector, similarly to how the strong nuclear force confines SM quarks, would produce a high multiplicity of light hidden hadrons from showering processes in a similar way to jet production in the SM. These hidden hadrons would typically decay displaced from the proton–proton collision, thus failing the criteria employed in previous dark-photon searches to suppress backgrounds due to heavy-flavour quarks. Therefore, it is desirable to perform experimental searches for dark sectors that are less model dependent, by not focusing solely on the minimal dark-photon scenario.

Using its Run-2 data sample, LHCb recently performed searches for both short-lived and long-lived exotic bosons that decay into the dimuon final state. These searches explored the invariant mass range from near the dimuon threshold up to 60 GeV. None of the searches found evidence for a signal and exclusion limits were placed on the X μ+μ cross sections, each with minimal model dependence.

For many types of dark-sector models, these limits are the most stringent to date. This is especially true for the HV scenario (see figure), for which LHCb has placed the first such constraints on physically relevant HV mixing strengths in this mass range.

These results demonstrate the unique sensitivity of the LHCb experiment to dark sectors. Looking forward to Run 3, the trigger will be upgraded, greatly increasing the efficiency to low-mass dark sectors, and the luminosity will be higher. Taken together, these improvements will further expand LHCb’s world-leading dark-sector programme.

Further reading

LHCb Collaboration 2020 arXiv:2007.03923.

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