Thursday, November 18, 2010
This is cool.
A team of scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have for the first time, solved one of the biggest mysteries of physics, successfully trapping the first “anti-atom” that they hope will help them understand what happened to all of the antimatter created by the Big Bang.
The team’s spokesman, American scientist Jeffrey Hangst, told the AP:
“For us it’s a big breakthrough because it means we can take the next step, which is to try to compare matter and antimatter.”
For decades, researchers have puzzled over why antimatter seems to have vanished from the universe. Theory posits it was created in equal amounts as matter at the moment of the Big Bang, which created the universe some 13.7 billion years ago. But while matter — defined as having mass and taking up space — went on to become the building block of everything that exists, antimatter has disappeared except in the lab.
Scientists have long been able to create individual particles of antimatter such as anti-protons, anti-neutrons and positrons — the opposite of electrons. Since 2002, they have also managed to lump these particles together to form anti-atoms, but until recently none could be trapped for long enough to study them, because atoms made of antimatter and matter annihilate each on contact.
To millions of Star Trek fans, combining antimatter with matter created the massive energy required to move the Enterprise through the galaxy at Warp Drive.