Sunday, 5 June 2011

CERN Scientists Trap Antimatter for Almost 17 Minutes

Awesome stuff, if you're a fan of Star Trek, interested in Science or just a closet GEEK !!

What happened to antimatter? That's the grand riddle that scientists are attempting to piece together, but it takes quite a bit of work to conduct experiments on the illusive mirror image of matter–anything that has a volume and occupies mass, to define matter in layman's terms.
But CERN scientists have now been able to isolate unstable antimatter for a grand total of nearly 17 minutes. That's a far cry from experiments performed last fall, when scientists were only able to record the presence of antimatter for fractions of seconds. The increased longevity should now give researchers the time they need to perform studies on antiatoms related to change-parity-time reversal (CPT) symmetry.
So just how difficult is it to trap antimatter for study? Just like in Star Trek, the combination of matter and antimatter particles leads to the annihilation of both and the production of a small flash of energy. Thus, to successfully trap antimatter, researchers use magnetic fields to contain antiatoms. When they turn off the field, the resulting annihilation events–recorded by a special detector–clue the scientists into just how many antiatoms are left after a set period of containment time.
"In the beginning we were turning off our trap as soon as possible after each attempt to make anti-atoms, so as not to miss any," said the University of California, Berkeley's Joel Fajans.
In the case of CERN's research, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research has been experimenting with the creation of antihydrogen atoms. The longer lifespan of these antihydrogen atoms will now allow researchers to perform more precise spectroscopy and comparisons of these antimatter elements against their hydrogen counterparts.
In doing so, scientists hope to start working their way toward an answer to the ultimate question: Why nature favored matter over antimatter at the creation of the universe, even though the two should have been fashioned in equal amounts (and subsequently annihilated each other, we suppose). They didn't, which violated CPT symmetry, or the position that particle charges, parities, and time flows should not be predisposed in one direction or another. In our universe, for example, positive charges favor heavy particles, matter is favored over antimatter, and forward time is favored over reverse.
"Any hint of CPT symmetry breaking would require a serious rethink of our understanding of nature," said Jeffrey Hangst, a professor at Aarhus University in Denmark. "But half of the universe has gone missing, so some kind of rethink is apparently on the agenda."
CERN's full study was published in the journal Nature Physics: "Confinement of antihydrogen for 1,000 seconds."
For more from David, follow him on Twitter @TheDavidMurphy.

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