Scientists have observed an elusive type of matter containing short-lived ‘virtual particles’ for the first time, in what could be a major breakthrough for our understanding of the early universe.

The new form of strange matter is thought to be a window into the origin of mass following the Big Bang.

In the new study, an international team of researchers demonstrated the existence of an exotic nucleus containing two protons and a fleeting particle known a kaon.

A kaon is a type of meson, which is a group of short-lived particles that mediates the forces between protons and neutrons, according to the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR).

Kaons are made up of a quark-anti-quark pair.

It’s been many decades since the existence of mesons was first proposed by Japanese physicist Hideki Yukawa, but their fleeting nature has made it difficult to pinpoint kaons (or, K mesons).

Being so short-lived, kaons are essentially ‘virtual particles,’ quickly popping in and out of existence.

To nail down these particles, researchers from the international J-PARC E15 Collaboration attempted to spot them in a nucleus along with neutrons and protons, where they might become a bound particle.

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