The extreme energy densities generated by ultra-relativistic collisions between heavy atomic nuclei produce a state of matter that behaves surprisingly like a fluid, with exceptionally high temperature and low viscosity. Non-central collisions have angular momenta of the order of 1,000h, and the resulting fluid may have a strong vortical structure that must be understood to describe the fluid properly. The vortical structure is also of particular interest because the restoration of fundamental symmetries of quantum chromodynamics is expected to produce novel physical effects in the presence of strong vorticity. However, no experimental indications of fluid vorticity in heavy ion collisions have yet been found. Since vorticity represents a local rotational structure of the fluid, spin-orbit coupling can lead to preferential orientation of particle spins along the direction of rotation. Here we present measurements of an alignment between the global angular momentum of a non-central collision and the spin of emitted particles (in this case the collision occurs between gold nuclei and produces Λ baryons), revealing that the fluid produced in heavy ion collisions is the most vortical system so far observed. (At high energies, this fluid is a quark-gluon plasma.) We find that Λ and hyperons show a positive polarization of the order of a few per cent, consistent with some hydrodynamic predictions. (A hyperon is a particle composed of three quarks, at least one of which is a strange quark; the remainder are up and down quarks, found in protons and neutrons.) A previous measurement that reported a null result, that is, zero polarization, at higher collision energies is seen to be consistent with the trend of our observations, though with larger statistical uncertainties. These data provide experimental access to the vortical structure of the nearly ideal liquid created in a heavy ion collision and should prove valuable in the development of hydrodynamic models that quantitatively connect observations to the theory of the strong force.
|Number of pages||4|
|State||Published - Aug 2 2017|
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank the RHIC Operations Group and RCF at Brookhaven National Laboratory, the NERSC Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Open Science Grid consortium for providing resources and support. This work was supported in part by the Office of Nuclear Physics within the US Department of Energy Office of Science, the US National Science Foundation, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Academy of Science, the Ministry of Science and Technology of China and the Chinese Ministry of Education, the National Research Foundation of Korea, the GA and MSMT of the Czech Republic, Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India, the National Science Centre of Poland, the National Research Foundation, the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports of Croatia, and RosAtom of Russia.
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