CP Violations Newly Observed in Beauty Meson Decays

    J. Michael Roney
    • Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada
Physics 13, 6
Measurements show large matter-versus-antimatter differences in three-pion decays of B mesons, yielding new insights into the strong interaction dynamics that control these decays.
Figure 1: The CP symmetry can be thought of as a “mirror” whose image also converts matter to antimatter. New experimental observations show that this symmetry is violated by the decay of charged B mesons into three pions.

Physicists are engaged in a world-wide program of probing the intriguing, and rare, phenomenon of CP violation—a phenomenon needed to explain the dominance of matter over antimatter in the Universe [1]. As part of this program, the LHCb experiment at CERN reported in 2014 that the B meson—a negatively charged particle containing a beauty (or bottom) quark—decays to three pions in a way that is different than how its antimatter counterpart, the B+ meson, decays [2]. However, these measurements did not yield the sources of CP violation, which remained hidden—like a “diamond in the rough”—by all the complexities of strong force dynamics in these decays. With more than a fourfold increase in its data set, LHCb now reports three separate sources of CP violation within three-pion decays and provides key insights into the strong interaction dynamics [3]. Those insights may ultimately help determine if there is a new source of CP violation—one that goes beyond current models and can explain the matter-antimatter asymmetry of our Universe.

Violations of CP symmetry may sound like a breakdown in theory, but they are in fact an integral part of the standard model of particle physics. The C of CP refers to the “charge conjugation” operation in which every particle in a process is replaced by its antiparticle equivalent. The P refers to “parity transformation,” which inverts the spatial coordinates: (x,y,z)(x,y,z). Processes associated with the strong and electromagnetic forces behave identically under C or P transformations. However, the weak interaction is not symmetric under C, P, or the combination CP (Fig. 1).

CP violation was first observed [4] in 1964 by James Cronin and Val Fitch and their collaborators at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, and it led to their 1980 Nobel Prize in Physics. The measurements showed a difference, or CP asymmetry, of 0.2% in the weak interaction decays of neutral K mesons, depending on whether they contained a strange quark or strange antiquark. In order to explain this matter-antimatter disparity, Japanese theorists Makoto Kobyashi and Toshihide Maskawa (KM) postulated in 1973 [5] that nature has six quarks, rather than the three known to exist at the time. The KM model assumes that the six quarks mix in such a way that strange-quark processes differ from strange-antiquark processes—thus explaining the observed CP violation in K mesons.

The KM theory also predicted large CP violation in some rare decays of particles containing beauty quarks, with CP asymmetries as high as 70%. By 2001, the BaBar experiment [6] at SLAC in California and the Belle experiment [7] at KEK in Japan observed the predicted CP violation in the decays of neutral B mesons and anti-B mesons decaying to the same final state. This led to the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics for Kobyashi and Maskawa and the firm embedding of the KM theory within the standard model. However, the KM mechanism for producing CP violation was found to be several orders of magnitude too small to explain the matter domination in the Universe. Thus researchers have been on the lookout for sources of CP violation beyond the standard model.

This search for “extra” CP violation is an important motivation for LHCb, which studies the particles that stream out of high-energy proton-proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHCb experiment consists of multiple particle detectors close to the axis of the LHC’s proton beam lines where B mesons, as well as other mesons containing charm quarks, are produced and quickly decay. With the enormous numbers of events being recorded, LHCb is sensitive to CP violation in very rare decays of both B and charm mesons. In fact, LHCb reported the first observation of CP violation in charm decays last year [8] (see Viewpoint: Charm Reflects Poorly on Anticharm).

When it comes to the three-pion decays of charged B mesons—written as B+𝜋+𝜋𝜋+ and B𝜋+𝜋𝜋CP violation is expected, but the exact amount is not well predicted. The uncertainty stems from the difficulty in calculating the strong interactions between the mesons. This strong interaction dynamics produces a range of different intermediate states (or decay modes), which each have a different CP asymmetry. Previous experiments, such as the BaBar experiment, have studied these three-pion decays and found features potentially related to CP violation [9]. However, because the process is so rare, BaBar did not have enough data to actually see the CP violation. With over 20,000 B+𝜋+𝜋𝜋+ decays in hand, LHCb has 17 times the size of the BaBar experiment’s decay sample. That provides enough statistics to not only observe CP violating effects but to also test and validate models of the behavior of the strong interaction in these decays for the first time.

Figure 2: The decay of charged B mesons into three pions occurs through several different intermediate states, including the spin-2 f2(1270) meson (top), the spin-1 rho meson (middle), and a spin-0 double-pion state (bottom).

What the LHCb team observes is fascinating, as they are able to observe the different ways that B mesons can decay to three pions. For example, the B meson can initially decay into an intermediate state consisting of a single pion and a spin-1 rho meson ( 𝜌0) with a mass of 770 MeV/ c2, which itself decays to a 𝜋+𝜋 pair. This quasi-two-body decay is the dominant mode, accounting for 55% of the three-pion decays. LHCb also observed other modes, such as one where the pion pair comes through a spin-2 meson—called f2(1270)—with a mass of 1270 MeV/ c2, and another mode in which the pair exists in a spin-0 state with an effective mass below the rho mass (Fig. 2). The LHCb team used these results to determine the parameters that go into models of the strong interaction dynamics of this decay [10].

The collaboration observed CP violation—with a significance of more than 10 sigma—in two of the three-pion decay modes: the mode with f2(1270) exhibited a CP asymmetry of 40%, whereas the spin-0 decay mode had a 15% asymmetry. LHCb also established the presence of CP violation effects that it attributes to interference between the spin-0 and spin-1 states. However, the data showed no significant CP violation in the dominant decay mode with the spin-1 rho meson.

The LHCb observations of CP violation in these B meson decays are entirely consistent with predictions of the standard model . Consequently, this work doesn’t address the problem of the matter-dominated Universe. However, by providing experimental constraints and reliable models of the strong dynamics of charge-B-to-three-pion decays, these LHCb results can be used to reduce the uncertainties in the extraction of CP-violating observables in other related decays, such as decays of neutral B mesons to three pions ( B0𝜋+𝜋𝜋0 and anti- B0𝜋+𝜋𝜋0), which will be used to directly test the KM model with higher precision. With those reduced uncertainties, future precision measurements of such decays at LHCb or at the newly commissioned Belle II in Japan might uncover the most prized diamond in the rough: a new source of CP violation that lies beyond the standard model.

This research is published in Physical Review Letters and Physical Review D.


  1. A. D. Sakharov, “Violation of CP invariance, C asymmetry, and baryon asymmetry of the universe,” Usp. Fiz. Nauk 161, 61 (1991); Sov. Phys. Usp. 34, 392 (1991).
  2. R. Aaij et al. (LHCb Collaboration), “Measurement of CP violation in the phase space of B±K+K𝜋± and B±𝜋+𝜋𝜋± decays,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 112, 011801 (2014).
  3. R. Aaij et al. (LHCb Collaboration), “Observation of several sources of CP violation in B+𝜋+𝜋+𝜋 decays,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 124, 031801 (2020).
  4. J. H. Christenson et al., “Evidence for the 2𝜋 decay of the K20 meson,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 13, 138 (1964).
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  8. R. Aaij et al. (LHCb Collaboration), “Observation of CP violation in charm decays,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 122, 211803 (2019).
  9. B. Aubert et al. (BaBar Collaboration), “Dalitz plot analysis of B±𝜋±𝜋±𝜋 decays,” Phys. Rev. D 79, 072006 (2009).
  10. R. Aaij et al. (LHCb Collaboration), “Amplitude analysis of the B+𝜋+𝜋+𝜋 decay,” Phys. Rev. D 101, 012006 (2020).
  11. Y. Li et al., “Quasi-two-body decays B(s)Pf2(1270)P𝜋𝜋 in the perturbative QCD approach,” Phys. Rev. D 98, 056019 (2018).

About the Author

Image of J. Michael Roney

J. Michael Roney is Professor of Physics at the University of Victoria and Director of Canada’s Institute of Particle Physics. His research has focused on electroweak particle physics and subatomic particle detector instrumentation. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and has served as President of the Canadian Association of Physicists. In the past, he has contributed to the OPAL experiment at CERN’s Large Electron–Positron Collider and the T2K experiment at the J-PARC accelerator in Japan. He has been a member of the SLAC-based BaBar Collaboration since 1996 and its Spokesperson since 2010. His current research is focused on the Belle II experiment at the SuperKEKB electron-positron collider.

Subject Areas

Particles and Fields

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