CERN researchers capture antimatter for the first time

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 By

CERN

The CERN laboratory was able to create and hold antimatter atoms for the first time recently. Image: Florian Hirzinger/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA

For the first time in the history of mankind, scientists have been able to find antimatter. The discovery was made at the CERN research laboratory. It is the first time entire atoms of antimatter have been observed.

Antimatter atoms captured for the first time

Scientists at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, were able to capture antimatter in an experiment, according to The Telegraph. Only 38 atoms of antihydrogen were able to be captured for a fifth of a second before blasting out of existence. For subatomic particles, a fifth of a second is a long time. To produce antihydrogen, scientists used the Anti-hydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus, or ALPHA, to bombard a contained field with about 700 million positrons, or positively charged electrons, with about 10 million protons, according to the BBC. The experiment took place in a strong magnetic container, forming a gas cloud about the size of a match head. The result was 38 atoms worth of antihydrogen. Antihydrogen is the element used in studies as it is basically hydrogen, the simplest element, with opposite charges.

Antimatter not just for science fiction

Antimatter is essentially a corresponding particle of matter with an opposite electrical charge. For instance, a normal electron has a negative charge and behaves in a certain way. A positron, or anti-electron, behaves just like an electron, but has a positive charge. The existence of positrons was first confirmed in 1932 by Carl D. Anderson at CalTech, and for his discovery he won the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physics. When antimatter comes in contact with ordinary matter, the particles annihilate each other. The challenge is how to create an antimatter particle that exists long enough to study it.

Major problem in physics

Matter and antimatter are some of the greatest mysteries in physics. Less antimatter exists than matter, because if equal amounts of matter and antimatter existed, the universe would have annihilated itself long ago. Still, the creation of a few atoms of antimatter for a few seconds in a lab is quite an achievement.

Sources

The Telegraph

The BBC

Wikipedia on Antimatter

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