Observation of Global Spin Alignment of $\phi$ and $K^{*0}$ Vector Mesons in Nuclear Collisions

The STAR collaboration
Nature 614 (2023) 244-248, 2023.

Abstract (data abstract)
Notwithstanding decades of progress since Yukawa first developed a description of the force between nucleons in terms of meson exchange, a full understanding of the strong interaction remains a major challenge in modern science. One remaining difficulty arises from the non-perturbative nature of the strong force, which leads to the phenomenon of quark confinement at distances on the order of the size of the proton. Here we show that in relativistic heavy-ion collisions, where quarks and gluons are set free over an extended volume, two species of produced vector (spin-1) mesons, namely $\phi$ and $K^{*0}$, emerge with a surprising pattern of global spin alignment. In particular, the global spin alignment for $\phi$ is unexpectedly large, while that for $K^{*0}$ is consistent with zero. The observed spin-alignment pattern and magnitude for the $\phi$ cannot be explained by conventional mechanisms, while a model with a connection to strong force fields, i.e. an effective proxy description within the Standard Model and Quantum Chromodynamics, accommodates the current data. This connection, if fully established, will open a potential new avenue for studying the behaviour of strong force fields.

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