ABCs of

particle physics

is for inflation that made the universe expand.


Imagine if things the size of an atom suddenly expanded to the size of a grapefruit. That’s what scientists believe happened during inflation, a short but violent period early in the universe’s history. The universe grew, stretching minor quantum variations into larger patterns that can still be read in the sky in light left over from just after the big bang.


is for Joule, a measurement of energy on hand.


A joule is the name for a certain amount of energy. It’s roughly equivalent to you lifting a small apple a meter in the air. One of the most energetic cosmic ray particles ever detected clocked in around 50 joules, which might seem unimpressive—until you compare the size of your arm to the size of a subatomic particle! This cosmic ray, propelled by an unknown source in space, was millions of times as energetic as the particles accelerated at the Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful accelerator ever built.





is for kaons, with quarks that are strange...


Many subatomic particles are made of building blocks called quarks, which come in six different types. Kaons are particles that contain a quark called a strange quark. Kaons are important because scientists used them to find clues as to why our universe is made of more matter than antimatter. They discovered that kaons and their antimatter partners decay in different ways, contributing to the imbalance.


is for leptons, which

have a wide range.


The leptons are a family of subatomic particles. The best-known lepton is the electron. Other leptons include heavier versions of the electron called muon and tau particles, and a group of three almost massless particles called neutrinos. Unlike some other particles, leptons don’t combine with one another; they like their personal space.

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