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   creation of anti-atoms

creation of antimatter atoms


physicists at CERN have announced that they have passed through nature's looking glass and created atoms made of antimatter, or anti-atoms, opening up the possibility of experiments in a realm once reserved for science fiction writers. such experiments, theorists say, could test some of the basic tenets of modern physics and show the way to a deeper understanding of nature.

matter and antimatter are endowed with equal and opposite characteristics such as charge and spin, so if they meet they obliterate each other, releasing a flash of energy upon contact.

scientists see the creation of antihydrogen atoms as the first step toward testing some physicists' deepest notions about nature, which hold that antimatter should look and behave identically to ordinary matter. for example, any violation of the expected symmetry between hydrogen and antihydrogen, like a slight difference in the wavelengths of the light they emit, would rock physics to its core.

by corraling clouds of antimatter particles in a cylindrical chamber laced with detectors and electric and magnetic fields, the physicists assembled antihydrogen atoms, the looking-glass equivalent of hydrogen, the most simple atom in nature. whereas hydrogen consists of a positively charged proton circled by negatively charged electrons, in antihydrogen the proton's evil twin, a positively charged antiproton, is circled by an antielectron, otherwise known as a positron. they then observed the flashes of energy when the new antihydrogen atoms annihilated themselves in collisions with ordinary matter in the walls of the chamber.

at least 50,000 antihydrogen atoms have been created since the experiment began in August, said Jeffrey Hangst, from Aarhus University in Denmark, who coordinated efforts by 39 physicists from 10 institutions in a collaboration named Athena.

in science fiction, antimatter, with its perfect convertibility to energy, is the ultimate rocket fuel, but the CERN scientists see their anti-hydrogen atoms as a ticket not across the galaxy but in effect to a different universe, in which clocks run backward, left is right, and positive is negative.

antimatter has been part of physics ever since 1927, when its existence was predicted by the British physicist Paul Dirac. the antielectron, or positron, was discovered in 1932.

according to the theory, matter can only be created in particle-antiparticle pairs. it is still a mystery, cosmologists say, why the universe seems to be overwhelmingly composed of normal matter.



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links:

| CERN: The ATHENA Experiment | ~ | CERN (Pressrelease): Thousands of cold anti-atoms produced | ~ | CERN: ATHENA Experiment Quicktime Movie [7Mb] | ~ | CERN: Antimatter | ~ | Nature: 50,000 atoms of anti-hydrogen made | ~ | Scientific American: What is antimatter? | ~ | An introduction to Particle Physics | ~ | BBC: Antimatter mystery deepens |


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