Odderon discovered

9 March 2021
Part of the TOTEM installation Pot” detectors
Excavating odderons Part of the TOTEM installation in the LHC tunnel 220m downstream from the CMS experiment. Credit: M. Brice/CERN-PHOTO-201609-210-5

The TOTEM collaboration at the LHC, in collaboration with the DØ collaboration at the former Tevatron collider at Fermilab, have announced the discovery of the odderon – an elusive three-gluon state predicted almost 50 years ago. The result was presented in a “discovery talk” on Friday 5 March during the LHC Forward Physics meeting at CERN, and follows the joint publication of a CERN/Fermilab preprint by TOTEM and DØ reporting the observation in December 2020.

This result probes the deepest features of quantum chromodynamics

Simone Giani

“This result probes the deepest features of quantum chromodynamics, notably that gluons interact between themselves and that an odd number of gluons are able to be ‘colourless’, thus shielding the strong interaction,” says TOTEM spokesperson Simone Giani of CERN. “A notable feature of this work is that the results are produced by joining the LHC and Tevatron data at different energies.”

States comprising two, three or more gluons are usually called “glueballs”, and are peculiar objects made only of the carriers of the strong force. The advent of quantum chromodynamics (QCD) led theorists to predict the existence of the odderon in 1973. Proving its existence has been a major experimental challenge, however, requiring detailed measurements of protons as they glance off one another in high-energy collisions.

While most high-energy collisions cause protons to break into their constituent quarks and gluons, roughly 25% are elastic collisions where the protons remain intact but emerge on slightly different paths (deviating by around a millimetre over a distance of 200 m at the LHC). TOTEM measures these small deviations in proton–proton (pp) scattering using two detectors located 220 m on either side of the CMS experiment, while DØ employed a similar setup at the Tevatron proton–antiproton (pp̄) collider.

Pomerons and odderons

At low energies, differences in pp vs pp̄ scattering are due to the exchange of different virtual mesons. At multi-TeV energies, on the other hand, proton interactions are expected to be mediated purely by gluons. In particular, elastic scattering at low-momentum transfer and high energies has long been explained by the exchange of a pomeron – a colour-neutral virtual glueball made up of an even number of gluons.

However, in 2018 TOTEM reported measurements at high energies that could not easily be explained by this traditional picture. Instead, a further QCD object seemed to be at play, supporting models in which a three-gluon compound, or one containing higher odd numbers of gluons, was being exchanged. The discrepancy came to light via measurements of a parameter called ρ, which represents the ratio of the real and imaginary parts of the forward elastic-scattering amplitude when there is minimal gluon exchange between the colliding protons and thus almost no deviation in their trajectories. The results were sufficient to claim evidence for the odderon, although not yet its definitive observation.

The D⌀ experiment

The new work is based on a model-independent analysis of data at medium-range momenta transfer. The TOTEM and DØ teams compared LHC pp data (recorded at collision energies of 2.76, 7, 8 and 13 TeV and extrapolated to 1.96 TeV), with Tevatron pp̄ data measured at 1.96 TeV. The odderon would be expected to contribute with different signs to pp and pp̄ scattering. Supporting this picture, the two data sets disagree at the 3.4σ level, providing evidence for the t-channel exchange of a colourless, C-odd gluonic compound.

“When combined with the ρ and total cross-section result at 13 TeV, the significance is in the range 5.2-5.7σ and thus constitutes the first experimental observation of the odderon,” said Christophe Royon of University of Kansas, who presented the results on behalf of DØ and TOTEM last week. “This is a major discovery by CERN/Fermilab.”

In addition to the new TOTEM-DØ model-independent study, several theoretical papers based on data from the ISR, SPS, Tevatron and LHC, and model-dependent inputs, provide additional evidence supporting the conclusion that the odderon exists.

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