STAR focus: Measurement of Momentum and Angular Distributions of e+e- pairs from Linearly Polarized Photons

Only a handful of fundamental interactions between light and matter are allowed by the theory of quantum electrodynamics, all of which but one have been observed in the 80 or so years since their prediction. The Breit-Wheeler process, the simplest mechanism for converting 'light quanta' into matter and antimatter, has eluded observation for decades, despite being hotly pursued.The idea that you can create matter from smashing together light is a striking demonstration of the physics immortalized in Einstein's famous E=mc2 equation, which revealed that energy and matter are two sides of the same coin.

Recently, the STAR collaboration published "Measurement of Momentum and Angular Distributions of e+e- pairs from Linearly Polarized Photons" in Physical Review Letters, in which presents observation of the Breit-Wheeler process in heavy-ion collisions for the first time. This discovery was made possible by a unique analysis which measured the quantum spin-momentum correlations of the produced e+e- pair, revealing a striking 4th order angular modulation (See Figure). Virtual photons live only briefly as they mediate the electromagnetic force and carry a virtual mass. While virtual photons can be in the helicity 0 state, due to their virtual mass, real photons cannot, and instead must have +/-1 unit of helicity. This difference has a profound impact on the produced e+e- pair, since the quantized spin of the colliding photons becomes encoded in the final momentum of the produced electron and positron, resulting in the observed modulated emission angle ($\Delta\phi$). As the figure shows, the STAR data agree with calculations of the Breit-Wheeler process (QED), which predicts a strong cos$4\Delta\phi$ modulation from the collision of linearly polarized photons.

The measured cos$4\Delta\phi$ modulation proves another tantalizing prediction from decades ago. Heavy-ion collisions have long been expected to produce the strongest magnetic fields in the Universe, of order 1015 Tesla. Physicists in the 1930's predicted that photons shooting through such strong magnetic fields can be "bent", despite the photon itself not being charged - and therefore not directly interacting with the electromagnetic field. However, in quantum mechanics, a real photon can briefly fluctuate into an e+e- pair which can interact with the strong electromagnetic fields. The key prediction for this effect, called vacuum birefringence, is that the photon's path is split depending on the angle between the photon's polarization and the magnetic field direction. In the recent STAR measurement, the colliding photons result from the highly boosted electromagnetic fields of the heavy ions, so the photon's polarization direction is directly related to the classical electric and magnetic field direction. Therefore, the observed cos$4\Delta\phi$ modulation can be understood in terms of the absorption of light when the polarization of the photon (from one ion) is parallel vs. perpendicular to the magnetic field direction (produced by the other ion). This absorption effect is directly related to vacuum birefringence, and provides the first experimental verification that heavy-ion collisions really do produce ultra strong magnetic fields (approximately 1015 Tesla).

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Posted September 10, 2021

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STAR focus: Longitudinal Double-Spin Asymmetry for Inclusive Jet and Dijet Production in Polarized Proton Collisions at √s = 200 GeV

How is the spin of the proton distributed among its quark, anti-quark, and gluon constituents? The STAR experiment addressed this fundamental question using collisions of high-energy polarized protons.

We recently published results on the “Longitudinal Double-Spin Asymmetry for Inclusive Jet and Dijet Production in Polarized Proton Collisions at √s = 200 GeV” in Phys. Rev. D 103, L091103 (2021) highlighted as PRD Editors' Suggestion. The data give insight in the gluon spin contribution to the proton spin.

We measured the asymmetries in the differential production cross sections of inclusive jet and dijet probes for different longitudinal spin configurations of the colliding proton beams as a function of jet transverse momentum and dijet invariant mass. Since gluon-gluon and gluon-quark scattering contributions dominate the production of these probes in the STAR environment, the data provide sensitivity to the gluon spin contribution to the proton spin.

Left Figure: Results of the double-spin asymmetry for dijets as a function of dijet invariant mass for two different event topologies. The topologies probe complementary gluon fractional momenta. The green square markers show the new results from data collected in 2015. The blue triangle markers show our prior results based on data collected in 2009 and are seen to be in good agreement. The curves show dijet asymmetry expectations from the DSSV14 and NNPDFpol1.1 theory collaborations and the band indicates the size of the uncertainty in the NNPDFpol1.1 expectation.

Our prior results provided first evidence for a positive polarization of the gluons in the polarized nucleon for gluon fractional momenta larger than 0.05 upon their inclusion in global analyses. Our new results have an approximately twice larger figure of merit, with improved systematic uncertainties, and thus considerably strengthen this evidence. Since we concluded our data taking with longitudinally polarized protons in 2015, these data are anticipated to provide the most precise insights in gluon polarization well into the future, likely until the future Electron-Ion Collider comes online.

Posted May 27, 2021

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STAR focus: Observation of Ds/D0 in Au+Au collisions at √sNN = 200 GeV

The STAR Collaboration has recently published an article titled "Observation of Ds/D0 in Au+Au collisions at √sNN = 200 GeV” in Phys. Rev. Lett. 127, 092301.

Charm quarks are produced on timescales shorter than the Quark-Gluon Plasma (QGP) formation in heavy-ion collisions and they subsequently experience the whole evolution of the QGP matter, making them an excellent probe to study the transport properties of the QGP. In the QGP medium, one expects a different hadronization mechanism from p+p collisions through the recombination of charm quarks and light/strange quarks (namely coalescence hadronization) to dominate at low pT (< 5 GeV/c) and fragmentation hadronization to dominate at higher pT. Due to the enhanced strange-quark abundance in the QGP, an increased Ds production in heavy-ion collisions relative to p+p collisions has been predicted in case of hadronization via quark recombination. Comparing the Ds/D0 yield ratio in heavy-ion collisions with that in p+p therefore helps us understand the QGP effects on charm-quark hadronization.

In this paper we present the first measurement of Ds production and Ds/D0 yield ratio as a function of pT for different collision centralities at midrapidity (|y| < 1) in Au+Au collisions at √sNN = 200 GeV. A clear enhancement of the Ds/D0 yield ratio is found compared to PYTHIA simulations of p+p events at the same collision energy. For the Ds/D0 ratios integrated over 1.5 < pT < 5 GeV/c in the 10%–60% centrality range, the significance of this observation is more than 5 standard deviations. The pT-integrated Ds/D0 ratio is compatible with predictions from a statistical hadronization model. The enhancement, and its pT dependence, can be qualitatively described by model calculations incorporating thermal abundance of strange quarks in the QGP and coalescence hadronization that includes charm quarks. These results suggest that recombination of charm quarks with strange quarks in the QGP plays an important role in Ds-meson production in heavy-ion collisions.

Figure: (a) Ds/D0 yield ratio as a function of pT compared to various model calculations from He/Rapp (0%–20%), Tsinghua, Catania, and Cao-Ko in 0%–10% centrality interval of Au+Au collisions, and PYTHIA prediction in p+p collisions at √sNN = 200 GeV. (b) Ds/D0 yield ratio as a function of pT compared to model calculations from Tsinghua in 20%–40% (solid circles) and 40%–80% (open circles) centrality intervals of Au+Au collisions at √sNN = 200 GeV. Vertical bars and brackets on data points represent statistical and systematic uncertainties, respectively.

Posted August 30, 2021

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STAR focus: A 10-year journey of hunting for the critical point of strong interaction

One of the main goals of the Beam Energy Scan (BES) program at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) is hunting for the critical point in the QCD phase diagram. The findings will help us map out details of the nuclear phase changes to better understand the evolution of the universe and the conditions in the cores of neutron stars.

Recently, the STAR Collaboration published a paper in Phys. Rev. C 104, 024902 (2021), titled “Cumulants and correlation functions of net-proton, proton, and antiproton multiplicity distributions in Au+Au collisions at energies available at the BNL Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider”. The results show tantalizing signs of a critical point—a change in the way that quarks and gluons, the building blocks of protons and neutrons, transform from one phase to another.

This paper summarizes nearly 10 years of research and contains a large number of original and interesting research results on higher moments of net-proton distributions by the STAR Collaboration. It paves the way to perform high precision measurements from RHIC BES-II seeking to confirm the signature and/or location of the QCD critical point.

Figure: Collision energy dependence of the scaled (anti)proton cumulants and correlation functions in 0- 5% central Au+Au collisions at 7.7, 11.5, 14.5, 19.6, 27, 39, 54.4, 62.4, and 200 GeV. The error bars and bands represent the statistical and systematic uncertainties, respectively. The results from the UrQMD model calculation are also shown for comparison.

The cumulants can be decomposed into various-order multiparticle correlation functions. In order to understand the contributions to the cumulants, we present different orders of correlation functions separately. The energy dependence for C3/C1 is dominated by the negative two-particle normalized correlation functions, which is mainly due to the effects of baryon number conservation. However, it is found that the non-monotonic energy dependence observed in the proton C4/C1 cannot be described by the effect of baryon number conservation based on the UrQMD model. These interesting trends can be confirmed with high precision measurements using the data taken in RHIC BES-II (2018-2021) in the near future.

Posted August 20, 2021

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July 17, 2021
Congratulations to Dr. Joe Kwasizur who has just successfully defended his Ph.D. at Indiana. Dr. Kwasizur’s thesis was titled “Longitudinal Double-Spin Asymmetries for Dijet Production at Intermediate Pseudorapidity in Polarized p+p Collisions at $\sqrt{s}$ = 510 GeV”.

July 16, 2021
Congratulations to Dr Joey Adams who has successfully defended his Ph.D. at OSU. His thesis was titled “A Measurement of Lambda Hyperon Spin Polarization in Au+Au Collisions at $\sqrt{s_{\rm{NN}}}$ = 3 GeV with STAR”.

May 24, 2021
Congratulations to Dr. Pengfei Wang who successfully defended his PhD thesis at University of Science and Technology of China. Dr. Wang’s thesis was titled "Upsilon Measurement in Au+Au Collisions at $\sqrt{s_{\mathrm{NN}}}$ = 200 GeV from the STAR Experiment".

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