Pairs of free particles cannot form bound states in an elastic collision due to momentum and energy conservation. In many ultracold experiments, however, the particles collide in the presence of an external trapping potential that can couple their centre-of-mass and relative motions, assisting the formation of bound states. Here we report the observation of weakly bound molecular states formed between one ultracold atom and a single trapped ion in the presence of a linear Paul trap. We show that bound states can efficiently form in binary collisions, and enhance the rate of inelastic processes. By measuring the electronic spin-exchange rate, we study the dependence of these bound states on the collision energy and magnetic field, and extract the average molecular binding energy and mean lifetime of the molecule, having good agreement with molecular dynamics simulations. Our simulations predict a power-law distribution of molecular lifetimes with a mean that is dominated by extreme, long-lived events. The dependence of the molecular properties on the trapping parameters enables further studies on the characterization and control of ultracold collisions.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physics and Astronomy(all)