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article imageWhy is the Universe full of ‘stuff’ and not nothingness?

By Robert Myles     Feb 25, 2015 in Science
Los Angeles - Physicists at UCLA have a new slant on the origin of matter in the universe. That stars and planets are made of stuff we call matter is self-evident, but where did that stuff come from?
Why is it that stars and planets are made of particles, or matter and not anti-particles or antimatter? After all most of the laws of nature treat particles and antiparticles equally, so wouldn’t it follow that, say, a solar system composed of antimatter has an equal shout of existing?
And, given that mutually assured destruction is the inevitable outcome of any rendezvous between matter and antimatter, why should matter exist at all?
That conundrum — the apparent asymmetry that favors matter, however marginally — has had scientists scratching their heads for years.
Now, research from UCLA physicists, recently highlighted in the journal Physical Review Letters, offers a possible answer to the mystery of the origin of matter in the universe. They propose that the slight imbalance that appears to give matter sway over antimatter could be related to the Higgs boson particle.
The Higgs boson, or Higgs particle and sometimes known as the "God particle" is named after British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs. Higgs was one of six scientists who, as long ago as 1964, postulated the existence of such a particle.
But the Higgs boson remained pretty much a construct of theoretical physics until 2012 when, after extensive research conducted at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, a candidate particle was tracked down that was subsequently identified as in all probability being the elusive Higgs boson.
The discovery of the Higgs boson particle was greeted as one of the greatest scientific accomplishments. So long postulated, the Higgs boson is a crucial element of the modern theory of the forces of nature. According to physicists, it’s the Higgs boson that gives everything in the universe mass.
LHC physicists measured the Higgs particle’s mass and found its value to be peculiar, consistent with the possibility that the Higgs field, associated with the Higgs boson, was, in the first moments after the Big Bang, much larger than the “equilibrium value” of the field observed today.
The new UCLA research suggests the matter-antimatter asymmetry that exists all around us in the form of the "stuff" we can see and touch may have been produced as a result of the motion of the Higgs field. The Higgs field, say the researchers, could have caused a temporary inequality to emerge between the masses of particles and antiparticles that go to make up our universe. Such a temporary inequality allowed matter particles to gain the upper hand over antimatter particles.
That imbalance, the small excess of matter particles over antiparticles, resulted in the universe being full of stuff — solar systems, galaxies, dust and gas clouds — instead of it existing as a universal oblivion of nothingness.
When a particle of matter meets an antiparticle, they each disappear, in the process emitting two photons or a pair of some other particles. In the miasma that existed shortly after the Big Bang, particles and antiparticles existed in almost equal measure save for a tiny asymmetry in favour of matter that physicists put at one particle per 10 billion.
As the universe cooled, particles and antiparticles each annihilated the other in equal measure. After all that mutually assured destruction, a tiny number of particles remained. It’s this tiny number of particles that’s responsible for the subsequent formation of all the stars, planets and gas that exists in today’s universe, according to Alexander Kusenko, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA College and lead author of the research.
Explaining how that came about, Kusenko added that the Higgs field “had to descend to the equilibrium, in a process of ‘Higgs relaxation.’”
More about Higgs boson, Particle physics, Higgs field, matter antimatter, Antimatter
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