Confused about virtual particles

  • I
  • Thread starter kelly0303
  • Start date
  • #1
280
15
Hello! I am a bit confused about the distinction between virtual and real particles. For example a Z boson, which has a very short lifetime, in all experiments will decay to some other stable particles (i.e. it is detected through its decay). This means that it will always appear as a propagator, and as far as I understand, the propagators are not, usually, on shell. The mass of the Z was obtained by looking for a resonance peak, and that is the quoted mass in PDG for example. But what does it mean for a Z particle to not be virtual i.e. do we even have a real Z? So my question is, especially for unstable particle, which always appear as propagators in some Feynman diagram, when is it real and when is it virtual? Thank you!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #3
344
90
Hello! I am a bit confused about the distinction between virtual and real particles. For example a Z boson, which has a very short lifetime, in all experiments will decay to some other stable particles (i.e. it is detected through its decay). This means that it will always appear as a propagator, and as far as I understand, the propagators are not, usually, on shell. The mass of the Z was obtained by looking for a resonance peak, and that is the quoted mass in PDG for example. But what does it mean for a Z particle to not be virtual i.e. do we even have a real Z? So my question is, especially for unstable particle, which always appear as propagators in some Feynman diagram, when is it real and when is it virtual? Thank you!
Real particles appear in the 'in' and 'out' states, with only one vertex interacting with the rest of the diagram, and are on-shell. Virtual particles have both propagator vertices appearing inside the diagram and are off-shell.
If your Z boson survives long enough to leave the interaction volume then it would be deemed "real". But in actuality all particles are virtual, since interactions can occur anywhere.
 
Last edited:
  • #4
280
15
Real particles appear in the 'in' and 'out' states, with only one vertex interacting with the rest of the diagram, and are on-shell. Virtual particles have both propagator vertices appearing inside the diagram and are off-shell.
Thank you for you reply! But this is what I am confused about. You can't have for a (say) Z boson a diagram where the Z boson comes 'in' or 'out' of the diagram. The basis for QFT (if I understood it well) is that at infinity the particles are free, then they interact, then they are free again at infinity. But a Z boson (or any unstable particle) can't come and go to infinity, as it decays very fast. So the Z boson can only appear as a propagator, otherwise it would mean that it travelled for a long time without decaying. So how does one define a real particle?
 
  • #5
344
90
Thank you for you reply! But this is what I am confused about. You can't have for a (say) Z boson a diagram where the Z boson comes 'in' or 'out' of the diagram. The basis for QFT (if I understood it well) is that at infinity the particles are free, then they interact, then they are free again at infinity. But a Z boson (or any unstable particle) can't come and go to infinity, as it decays very fast. So the Z boson can only appear as a propagator, otherwise it would mean that it travelled for a long time without decaying. So how does one define a real particle?
I half answered this in an update, but let me complete it here. The interaction volume is arbitary, and the distinction between free and interacting a bit artifical. (There is no such thing as a free particle - they are just convenient fictions.). In reality all particles are virtual, and it is the so-called "real" particles that don't exist, ironically.
 

Related Threads on Confused about virtual particles

  • Last Post
Replies
14
Views
4K
Replies
12
Views
4K
  • Last Post
Replies
5
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
10
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
3
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
3
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
5
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
7
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
10
Views
454
Top