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Thread: Antimatter

  1. #1
    Mid
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    Antimatter

    Scientists create and trap antimatter for 17 minutes
    Jonathan Harwood
    JUNE 6, 2011


    Briefing: Will creating antihydrogen atoms help scientists unlock the secrets of the universe?

    Scientists at the Cern institute in Switzerland have created and stored atoms of antimatter, the mysterious substance that ceases to exist when it comes into contact with any form of matter, for almost 17 minutes.

    The team created more than 300 atoms of "antihydrogen" (pictured above 'annihilating' during a previous experiment) - the most basic atom possible - and managed to keep hold of 19 of them in a "magnetic atom trap" for 1,000 seconds, which is ample time to study them.

    They hope that the breakthrough will help them understand why the universe we live in is made up of matter rather than antimatter, even though there should have been equal amounts of both substances when the big bang occurred.

    What is antimatter?

    Very simply it is the opposite of matter. The theory was first suggested by physicist Paul Dirac in the 1930s, who realised that for every particle in existence there should be a mirror image, with the opposite charge.

    Everything around us is made up of protons, electron and neutrons. However, antimatter consists of antiprotons, antielectrons (or positrons) and antineutrons.

    The fact they have the opposite charge to matter means that they cannot co-exist, as they cancel each other out. So when matter and antimatter come into contact the result is the annihilation of both particles in a burst of energy.

    Why is it important?

    When the big bang took place, 14 billion years ago, matter and antimatter should theoretically have existed in equal quantities and therefore cancelled each other out. That obviously didn't happen and there is now a universe of matter, which means that matter must have somehow gained the upper hand.

    How and why that happened is one of the greatest mysteries of particle physics, and is one that the team working on the Alpha project at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research based in Geneva, hope to solve by creating and studying antimatter.

    Jeffrey Hangst, who is leading the team, explains: "The question in our experiment is, 'Do matter and antimatter obey the same laws of physics?' It's really very simple."

    What happened at Cern?

    Last November the Alpha team revealed that they had succeeded in creating antihydrogen particles in a series of overlapping magnetic fields. Back then they managed to trap a few dozen atoms for just 172 milliseconds.

    This time round they managed to create hundreds of antihydrogen atoms and keep 19 of them trapped for 1,000 seconds. They announced the breakthrough in the journal Nature Physics.

    Professor Joel Fajans from the University of California, a co-author of the report, said: "A thousand seconds is more than enough time to perform measurements on a confined anti-atom. It's enough time for the anti-atoms to interact with laser beams or microwaves. It's even enough time to go for coffee."

    So what happens now?

    This is where it gets even more complicated. The scientists will use microwaves and lasers to determine the properties of antihydrogen and try to measure the asymmetry between matter and antimatter with precision. They are looking for discrepancies in the charge-parity-time (CPT) symmetry that would explain why matter appeared to win after the big bang.

    Is there any danger in creating antimatter?

    If you create a lot of it then yes, but that won't be happening any time soon, no matter what author Dan Brown suggests in his book Angels & Demons (in which terrorists steal antimatter to make a bomb).

    Cern has tried to put people's fears at rest by explaining that the Alpha project is "perfectly safe, given the minute quantities we can make. It would be very dangerous if we could make a few grams of it, but this would take us billions of years."

    Could antimatter have uses in the future?

    Antimatter comes in handy for spaceships in Star Trek, Star Wars and Avatar, helping them travel through space and time. And in theory the energy created by the annihilation of matter and antimatter could have many applications, including for the military.

    However, we are a long way from using antimatter in those ways. A researcher at the Cern laboratories admitted last year: "If we could assemble all the antimatter we've ever made at Cern and annihilate it with matter, we would have enough energy to light a single electric light bulb for a few minutes."

    Antimatter reactions can also have medical uses and help with imaging and even the treatment of cancer.

    thefirstpost.co.uk

  2. #2
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    A really incredible breakthrough..

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    and keep 19 of them trapped for 1,000 seconds.
    Not a whole lot really.

    But incredibly interesting, nonetheless.

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    The real weird thing is that most of the universe is made of dark matter and dark energy.
    Only 4% is made up of the stuff we know.

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