Antimatter just got a little bit less mysterious

Dec 27, 2016

By Sophie Bushwick

Antimatter, the equal-but-opposite twin of regular old stuff, is a finicky material. It’s only in the past 20 years that scientists have been able to create the simplest atoms of antimatter and keep them stable. Now they have made the first measurements of antihydrogen’s internal structure.

Hydrogen is the first element in the periodic table, and consists of one electron orbiting one proton. Its mirror antihydrogen has one anti-electron, or positron, and one antiproton. If a positron and an electron collide, they will annihilate one other and release energy. Ditto for a proton-antiproton interaction. Because our universe is chock full of electrons, protons, and various combinations of the two, it’s exceptionally difficult to keep either anti-particle around for very long.

That’s exactly the challenge that physicists tackle at CERN’s Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus (ALPHA). They create a vacuum in a magnetic bottle, then toss positrons and antiprotons into it. Ideally, the two will combine into antihydrogen, the bottle will keep the antimatter stable, and then the scientists can study it—with lasers, of course.

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One comment on “Antimatter just got a little bit less mysterious”

  • 1
    fadeordraw says:

    Theoretically, the Big Bang should have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter. And because the two substances annihilate each other when they come into contact, they would have released a huge amount of energy and then disappeared, leaving an empty universe.Blockquote

    So I know about the Ghost Buster’s “I’m a scientist, back off”, but this antimatter thing, for layman me, does push the envelope. Glad we have a break through with hydrogen antimatter, the most elementary element, but if there’s antimatter, how is it that we exist again? Let’s spend some $Bs on that question.

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