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CERN traps antimatter atoms for 1,000 seconds

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June 6, 2011

CERN's antiproton decelerator, which was used to trap the antihydrogen atoms (Photo: Maxim...

CERN's antiproton decelerator, which was used to trap the antihydrogen atoms (Photo: Maximilien Brice)

Researchers involved in the ALPHA experiment at Switzerland's CERN complex announced yesterday (June 5) that they have succeeded in using the facility's antiproton decelerator to trap antimatter atoms for 1,000 seconds - or just over 16 minutes. This was reportedly enough time to begin studying their properties in detail, which has been the goal of ALPHA since the project began in 2005.

The announcement was made in a paper published online, in the journal Nature Physics. The scientists reported that they have studied approximately 300 of the trapped antihydrogen atoms - the hydrogen atom is one of the best-understood in the field of physics.

According the the Big Bang theory, when the universe was created, so were equal amounts of matter and antimatter. While matter is now everywhere in our universe, antimatter is scarce, and projects such as ALPHA are trying to figure out why.

Using microwave spectroscopy, the researchers plan to map the structure of the antihydrogen atoms, and compare it to that of hydrogen atoms. This will involve illuminating the anti-atoms with microwaves, and observing if they absorb the same frequencies as their matter counterparts. Any differences should be easily detectable, and could lead to a better understanding of the nature of antimatter.

Being able to keep the anti-atoms trapped for such a relatively long period should also allow them time to relax into their ground state. This, in turn, should allow the team to make precise measurements needed in order to study a symmetry called CPT. According to the theory, "a particle moving forward through time in our universe should be indistinguishable from an antiparticle moving backwards through time in a mirror universe." While this is thought to be a rule followed by nature, it may in fact turn out not to be the case.

"Any hint of CPT symmetry breaking would require a serious rethink of our understanding of nature," said ALPHA spokesperson Jeffrey Hangst. "But half of the universe has gone missing, so some kind of rethink is apparently on the agenda. "

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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13 Comments

Is it true therefore that CPT would demand that the H anti-proton should immediately disappear from our frame of reference ? (Since we're watching it get 'younger'...) And that a lifetime of 1000 seconds would mean CPT does not hold true ?

Peter Winquist
6th June, 2011 @ 05:16 pm PDT

whilst it seems physicists won't rule out things going backwards in time on physical grounds, I'm happy to personally rule it out on logical grounds.

Adrien
6th June, 2011 @ 08:52 pm PDT

"Being able to keep the anti-atoms trapped for such a relatively long period should also allow them time to relax into their ground state. This, in turn, should allow the team to make precise measurements needed in order to study a symmetry called CPT. According to the theory, "a particle moving forward through time in our universe should be indistinguishable from an antiparticle moving backwards through time in a mirror universe." While this is thought to be a rule followed by nature, it may in fact turn out not to be the case."

There are several unchecked assumptions in the structure of science, and the idea that time is a thing, and therefore reversible, is one of them. The problem is that these assumptions become so embedded that they assume the status of unquestioned and unquestionable fact, which are articles of faith, which reduce science to the status of a religion.

In this case, there is a simple progression of logic that clears up the problem. Go back in time (in your mind, please), and arrive at a situation in which there is no regular interaction of form on any level. All interaction is random. Tell me how you would "measure time" in that situation. You can not. As an observer, you can only say that one event has taken place before another, not "how long" before. Consider this deeply enough and you realize that clocks of all types rely entirely on regular interaction of forms, be they atoms in a lattice or whatever. Therefore, what a clock actually does is NOT measuring time, it is creating intervals of greater or lesser similarity, and counting them. Clocks do not MEASURE anything.

What, then, is time? Nothing more or less than a name for a process that depends on regular interaction of form. Time by itself, as a thing, does not exist. Therefore, "travelling back in time" is an oxymoron, an impossibility. Events progress in an elegant parade in only one direction.

This understanding raises another interesting question. How can we be so sure that our projections of the progress of the first "moments" of the "big Bang" are actually meaningful? Since our concept of time as something that exists as a thing is so strongly embedded, we automatically assume that we can meaningfully project the theories of the "Big Bang" backward into the merest picoseconds and femtoseconds of the process. However, since the chaotic period did not end until quite a while after the "beginning", we actually have no reason to think that the whole process did not take years or milennia instead of seconds and picoseconds. We could base some assumptions on the formation of first stars and rates of expansion, but does our set of assumptions actually mask other processes that may have taken place?

In closing, I think that "time" is best understood by analogy to "shadow". Both are real in a sense, but both are obviously not "things". They are the result of interactions of things. Reversing time is like having a shadow in your pocket. Shades of the Beatles on the Sea of Green. "Oive got a 'ole in me pocket".

jjgg38
6th June, 2011 @ 11:42 pm PDT

From Wiki:

"With a budget of 7.5 billion euros (approx. $9bn or £6.19bn as of Jun 2010), the LHC is one of the most expensive scientific instruments[62] ever built."

CERN has 7 key projects. If the decelerator took it's fair share that's $1.286B.

1000 seconds of antimatter is then worth over $1M a second.

Sure these are porrly constructed sums. Sure there are lots of people employed here.

Sure there is a remote possibility of some discovery of a scientific nature.

Don't get me wrong, I love science - and this is a really cool (pun intended) scientific toy.

But somehow I think humanity could benefit a lot more if this money being used to eliminate disease and poverty rather than examining the deep realms of physics.

We are so keen to discover the undiscovered, we have forgotten who we are.

Australian
7th June, 2011 @ 01:39 am PDT

^^ then get the US to stop funding its military. Surely you cannot believe cutting funds for science before military is a better option for humanitarian reasons.

Jacob Shepley
7th June, 2011 @ 03:18 am PDT

stop funding the military? ok then the nutjobs take over.no science.no coexistence.no nuthin. thats a fantasy but funding scientific projects should be used for the benefit of mankind.

Cowfy Kaufman
7th June, 2011 @ 07:50 am PDT

@jigg38... Back in time is the same as east in time. It's a perception we've designed to make communication easier. So who can say that perception of a chain of events ("time passing") in one direction isn't the same as one passing in another direction? If matter passes through time in one direction, maybe anti-matter passes through time not in a negative direction, but in a different direction. Maybe even a parallel one.

KMH
7th June, 2011 @ 08:53 am PDT

jjgg38 - June 6, 2011 @ 11:42 pm PDT--- That is one theory of time, there are others.

Disprove that we are all faultlessly psychic, and profoundly amnesic, and time moves in the opposite direction than we think it does.

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The ability to contain Antimatter, brings us a step closer to using it as an industrial fuel.

Slowburn
7th June, 2011 @ 09:22 am PDT

Thank you jjgg38, Australian and Jacob!

Whether it be theoretical physics, war or the conquest of space, why man insists on wasting so much time, resource and money on this type of superfluous crap is mind blowing. We could do so much good in the world, if we could only pull our heads out.

epochdesign
7th June, 2011 @ 10:30 am PDT

but would the progression of time in a mirror universe be perceived as a regression of time in this universe?

Thom Delahunt
7th June, 2011 @ 11:15 am PDT

"Whether it be theoretical physics, war or the conquest of space, why man insists on wasting so much time, resource and money on this type of superfluous crap is mind blowing. We could do so much good in the world, if we could only pull our heads out."

Well, the byproducts of all these activities (yes, even war) are what enable us to have this conversation. Without research and science, we would all still be living in caves with a life expectancy of less than 30 years.

Tom Serkowski
7th June, 2011 @ 09:18 pm PDT

So... antimatter and matter were thought to once have existed in equal quantities - at the time of the big bang - but now antimatter is scarce. If we can determine the current ratio of matter to antimatter and work out a rate of 'depletion' of antimatter according our 'time' and space then perhaps we can determine the end of our universe as we know it - or maybe the 'rebooting' of the universe!

Once matter and antimatter have completely separated from each other who's to say they wont begin to come together again eventually resulting in another 'big bang' - kind of like waves of water in a tub.

Kraiye
20th June, 2011 @ 07:14 pm PDT

Research should be and can be funded by private companies seeking to benefit others by providing desirable goods and services. Not funded by debt and taxes that are coerced out of the people. Let the free market decide where research should take us, not fascism and the fat bureaucrats.

fruitsalad
13th June, 2012 @ 07:28 pm PDT
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