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article imageScientists trap antimatter long enough for study

By Elizabeth Cunningham Perkins     Jun 6, 2011 in Science
Geneva - CERN reported the ALPHA experiment successfully isolated and detained more than 300 antimatter atoms for over 16 minutes, just long enough for these elusive particles to relax and settle down, so scientists can begin to get to know them much better.
The international team of scientists running the ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser PHysics Apparatus) experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), with the mission of isolating and studying animatter as antihydrogen atoms, announced trapping 309 antiatoms for 1000 seconds, in a paper published by the journal Nature Physics.
As another digital journalist reported, CERN announced the isolation and storing of anti-hydrogen atoms by the ALPHA experiment for a much shorter period in November 2010.
Antimatter is real, not science fiction, scientists stress, but it is mysterious, still -- and most of it appears to be missing, at least as far as our telescopes can see, due to our universe's, thus far, unexplained, apparent preference for "normal" matter. To learn more about the fundamental properties of matter, energy and nature, researchers want to compare normal matter and antimatter in detail, and discover the differences between the two, which may have made a whole universe of difference, since there would have been equal amounts of matter and antimatter at the Big Bang, scientists theorize.
According to the article by the ALPHA team and other materials provided by CERN:
The 309 trapped antihydrogen atoms (or "antihydrogen annihilation events") are a sufficient quantity, and the 1000 second storage period is long enough, for precise mapping with microwave or laser spectrometry, so the researchers can compare the antihydrogen system with hydrogen's that is already very familiar to physicists
The trapped antihydrogen atoms could add to the work of the AEgIS experiment that has been set up to measure the influence of gravity on antihydrogen.
A key benefit of trapping antihydrogen atoms for longer periods is being able to wait until they cool down into their lowest energy state (or ground state, as quantum systems go), to conduct the precision measurements necessary to test CPT (Charge, Parity and Time) reversal symmetry, or detect signs of CPT breaking.
In a written statement about the project's CPT symmetry investigation possibilities, ALPHA spokesperson and physicist Jeffrey Hangst of the Department of Aarhus University explained:
If nature follows CPT symmetry perfectly, a particle moving forward in time through this universe would be indistinguishable from an antiparticle moving backwards in time through its mirror universe, and the atomic spectra of hydrogen and antihydrogen would be identical.
But “any hint of CPT symmetry breaking would require a serious rethink of our understanding of nature.”
Measuring the trapped antihydrogen is the next project for ALPHA, due to begin later this year.
More about Antimatter, antimatter trap, Cern, missing antimatter
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