WHAT DO GLUONS DO, AND WHAT ARE THEY MADE OF?
Gluons transmit "color" force between quarks. To define these terms:
protons, neutrons, and other particles typically appearing in an atomic
nucleus are assumed to be made up of several particles called quarks. The
proton and neutron, for example, are each made up of three quarks.
Therefore the force between protons and neutrons, called the "strong
nuclear force", which holds the nucleus together despite the fierce mutual
repulsion of the positively charged protons, must be the result of some
other, more complicated force between the quarks. This force is called
the "color" force, although it has nothing to do with color as we know it.
Now, forces are transmitted by fields (i.e. electric forces are transmitted
by electric fields), and with quantum mechanics these fields can take on
only certain strengths separated by tiny gaps (thus the strength of
electric fields can be increased only in eensy-weensy discrete jumps). One
discrete jump in field strength (at a given frequency) is described as the
addition of one "particle" of the field, for a variety of reasons. This
particle of the field is usually given its own name, although in the case
of gravity it seems like it will be called just the "graviton". In the
case of electric fields, it is called a "photon," while in the case of color
fields, it is called a "gluon," because of course it helps the quarks stayed
glued together, ho ho ho. High-energy physics and cosmology are full of
amusing names, MACHOs, WIMPs, charmed particles --- all of which mean
something --- as well as droll expressions for real physical principles,
such as "black holes have no hair."
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Update: June 2012