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Homework Help: Maximum energy of a decay product in three(or more)-particle decay

  1. Nov 13, 2009 #1
    1. The problem statement, all variables and given/known data

    A particle A at rest decays into three or more particles: A -> B + C + D + ...

    What is the maximum energy particle B can have, expressed in the various masses?

    2. Relevant equations

    E^2 = m^2 c^4 + p^2 c^2;
    Conservation of energy and momentum.

    3. The attempt at a solution

    My reasoning in this problem is as follows. We can view this decay as a two-particle decay with particles B and X = (C + D + ...). The difference between this and an actual two-particle decay is that the mass of X can have different values.

    Because of conservation of momentum, the momentum of B needs to be opposite and equal to that of X. To maximize the energy of B, we need to minimize the amount of energy going into X. Since we can't do much about the kinetic energy of X as a whole, we need to minimize the internal energy of X. That means that all the particles need to be going in the same direction at the same velocity. So,

    [tex]p_b = -p_X = m_X v = (m_C + m_D + ...) v[/tex].

    Now, this all seems to make sense, but it doesn't seem like the way to go. Trying to calculate things from this point generate rather large expressions, which doesn't seem right. I'm also not even sure how to go about integrating the last restriction I named, since all the equations only seem to care about the size of the momentum three-vector, and not about how that vector is generated, while different compositions for the vector should lead to different energies.

    In addition to the above mess, I tried just writing out conservation of four-momentum in various arrangements and squaring them, but that didn't seem to lead to solvable equations. In fact, they seemed to suggest that the internal energy of X needed to be maximized, which doesn't sound right. Basically, I think I'm overlooking an easier way to go about this. If anyone could point me in a more productive direction, I'd appreciate it.
  2. jcsd
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