Physicists from Swansea University in the UK have created antihydrogen for the first time ever, a breakthrough which brings scientists another step closer to unraveling the strange questions around antimatter and the origins of the universe.
Antimatter can claim one of weirdest phenomena of particle physics. A bit of ordinary matter meets its doppelgänger – and the result is literal annihilation for both parties.
While antimatter and matter were produced in equal amounts by the Big Bang, the former is now so rare that no enduring samples have ever been found outside the laboratory.
But laboratory work is essential in the quest to find the elusive antimatter. The most scientists are able to generate in an experimental setting, the more than can observe and characterize what antimatter is and how it operates – which provides clues to how we can go about pinpointing the location of antimatter and identifying it for investigation.
Looking for a little more clarity on antimatter? Watch this very short video:
In new findings published in the journal Nature, the Swansea team illustrates their work in developing and measuring the properties of antihydrogen – a “negative” version of hydrogen.
Antimatter is largely the same as its ordinary counterpart, except that antiparticles exhibit the opposite charge. Therefore, antihydrogen has the same mass as hydrogen, but will produce a negative charge.
When antiparticles are combined with ordinary particles, they convert into direct energy and result in the destruction of the physical matter. That instability is why antimatter is such a pain in the ass to create, identify, and study.
The Swansea team made their discovery using CERN’s particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. The group managed to use super-cooling techniques to reduce individual particle energies enough to give them an opportunity to reassemble those particles into anti-atoms of anti-hydrogen.
The breakthrough provides a capacity for measuring the energy (produced as light) emanating from the antihydrogen, in order to describe the major differences between antihydrogen and hydrogen.
That understanding could lead to a clearer view for how to find antimatter in nature.
However, those hopes are still some ways away. The team first needs to refine its measurement techniques down to 12 decimal places – difficult in the face of using magnetic fields to suspect the antihydrogen anti-atoms.
That’s an entirely separate breakthrough waiting to occur.