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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