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CDF finds evidence for top quark production asymmetry

CDF kicked off the new year with the paper “CDF Finds Evidence for a Mass Dependant Forward-Backward Production Asymmetry of Top Quarks”, which has drawn some interest in the blogosphere.

The analysis itself is intriguing. Physicists expect to see the number of top quarks and antitop quarks produced along the beam line to meet with Standard Model predictions of nearly equal amounts. But, CDF isn’t seeing that. The collaboration sees more top quarks along the proton direction and fewer top quarks produced along the antiproton direction. CDF co-spokesman Rob Roser explains the analysis nicely in the article below.

But the really intriguing part is what this could all mean. It could signal a hint of new physics not predicted by the Standard Model.  Bloggers at Resonaances and Nature speculate on possible causes for the asymmetry. It could also be nothing more than an anomaly. In the patience-trying nature of particle physics, we will have to wait for more data to know for sure. Fortunately, CDF’s sister detector at the Tevatron, DZero, can do a complimentary analysis, widening the data set. Until that occurs, check out the analysis yourself below.

The article below ran in Fermilab Today January, 7.

CDF finds evidence for top quark production asymmetry

A new analysis that will be presented at a Wine and Cheese lecture at Fermilab today points to an asymmetry in top quark production. This analysis raises the asymmetry of forward and backward top quark production found in a 2008 analysis to a ~3 sigma level.

In nature, symmetry is seen as pleasing and balanced designs, such as the intricate pattern on a tortoise shell or the structure of a snowflake.

In elementary particle physics, symmetry is fundamental to the theories we use to describe the world in which we live. A discrepancy in the symmetry predicted by theories of the Standard Model can point to new types of physics, an anomaly in the data or that the current theories need revision.

CDF researchers have measured the symmetry of how top quarks emerge from collisions, forward or backward, and how they decay. This analysis was performed for the first time in 2006 at CDF. CDF and DZero both published their inclusive analysis of this asymmetry in 2008. These highly cited white papers already pointed to an anomaly that has generated much interest in the theoretical community. This latest result takes the 2008 publications a step further, by adding more data, and looking at the dependence on the mass of the system. It is this dependence that is most discrepant with the Standard Model.

Fermilab’s Tevatron produces collisions that create top quark and anti-top-quark pairs via the strong force. Simple theoretical calculations predict that the Tevatron detectors should observe symmetric distributions of both top and antitop quarks. However, more detailed calculations suggest that these oppositely charged particles should have a slight preference as to how they emerge from the collisions.

The origins of this symmetry are subtle, but CDF has the sensitivity to be able to observe the 6 percent imbalance, which is predicted by the Standard Model. This result shows that nature prefers an imbalance that is even larger than predicted.

It is important to determine whether the top quark we are observing  behaves the way we expect this Standard Model object to act. There are a number of Beyond-the-Standard-Model theories such as Z’ (pronounced Z-prime) and large extra dimensions that predicts much higher asymmetries. By measuring this asymmetry in top quark production, CDF physicists can compare it to theoretical expectations and probe for potentially undiscovered new physics.

The figures show the number of top events as a function of delta rapidity. The blue shape is that of the background, the green is the Standard Model prediction for top, and the points are our data. The plot on the left contains events in which the ttbar mass is less than 450 GeV/c2 and is very symmetric. The plot on the right is for a ttbar mass of greater than 450 GeV/c2 and illustrates the discrepancy between expected and observed.

Utilizing 5.3 inverse femtobarns of data, CDF measured the top forward backward asymmetry and observed significant asymmetries when studying the production and the production as related to the pairs’ center of mass energy, t-tbar.

When considering the pairs’ mass, the asymmetry is dependent on both the mass and the direction of the production. Scientists expect that the same number of top quarks and antitop quarks would be produced along the beam line, but CDF saw that more tops were produced along the proton direction of the beam and fewer tops produced along the antiproton direction of the beam. This effect is magnified when one looks at the mass dependence of the top-antitop system.

For Mttbar> 450 GeV/c2the asymmetry is measured to be 48 ± 11 percent, three standard deviations from Standard Model expectation (9 ± 1 percent). Some theories suggest that such a mass dependence could be evidence of a massive new particle just out of reach at the Tevatron’s collision energy.

The LHC, a machine with significantly higher energy, cannot easily study this phenomenon, since the LHC does not make protons and antiprotons collide. However a new particle would still be observable in energy spectrum at the LHC. If the result at CDF truly is a sign of new physics, it may be that both machines will be required to understand its nature.

This result may provide the first important clue that there is new physics beyond the Standard Model. There may still be other interesting results as scientists from both Fermilab experiments continue to analyze the Tevatron’s now nearly 10 inverse femtobarns of sample data.

— Rob Roser, CDF co-spokesperson


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