Anti-matter atom trapped

By Daniel Smith on Mar 8, 12 11:00 PM
Velocity in a gas of rubidium as it is cooled:...

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A window has been opened into the secret world of the anti-matter atom that might help solve one of the universe's greatest mysteries.

An international team of researchers used microwaves to manipulate atoms of "anti-hydrogen" for the first time, making them "jump".

Anti-matter is like a mirror image of ordinary matter, so electrical charges of its constituent particles are reversed.

When anti-matter and ordinary matter meet they annihilate each other in a powerful explosion as mass converts to energy.

A staple of science fiction, anti-matter is the driving force of the Starship Enterprise in the Star Trek TV series.

In reality, only tiny amounts of the material have been made and stored and much about its nature is still unknown.

The new research from the European particle physics laboratory at Cern in Geneva, Switzerland involved a technique called "microwave spectroscopy".

A collaboration of international scientists called Alpha confined atoms of anti-hydrogen in a magnetic trap and bombarded them with microwaves.

Precise tuning led to atoms being kicked out of the trap, revealing information about their properties.

Lead author Dr Mike Hayden, from Simon Fraser University in Canada, said: "For decades, scientists have wanted to study the intrinsic properties of anti-matter atoms in the hope of finding clues that might help answer fundamental questions about our universe.

"In the middle of the last century, physicists were developing and using microwave techniques to study ordinary atoms like hydrogen. Now, 60 or 70 years down the road we have just witnessed the first-ever microwave interactions with an anti-atom."

In the beginning, just after the Big Bang, scientists believe the universe should have contained equal amounts of matter and anti-matter.

Fundamental theories predict perfect symmetry between the two but today anti-matter is glaringly absent.

Why this should be so is a major unsolved mystery which scientists hope to shed light on by probing anti-matter in the laboratory.

Dr Walter Hardy, another Alpha member, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, said: "This study demonstrates the feasibility of applying microwave spectroscopy to fiendishly difficult-to-handle anti-atoms.

"Alpha is about to enter an intensive upgrade phase that promises to create an ever-clearer picture of the inner structure of anti-matter atoms."

Weird Science Factoid: The Sun takes about 220 million years to make one revolution of the Milky Way.

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Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith - a long time ago, in a galaxy far away just north of Watford, Daniel fancied himself as a scientist but turned out to be the worst scientist since that bloke who mapped out all those canals on Mars that turned out to be scratches on his telescope's lens. Luckily, he is now not working on the Large Hadron Collider inadvertently creating a black hole that would swallow the world but is safely behind a desk writing this blog, bringing you the fantastical underbelly of nature... weird science.

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