Matter and antimatter are almost identical, but their one crucial difference, an opposite charge, can cause mutual annihilation when the two are mixed.
So if there’s plenty of matter here in the world, where is its counterpart? When the universe formed, matter and antimatter should have been produced in equal amounts.
To study antimatter, scientists at the CERN laboratory (located just outside of Geneva) have produced antihydrogen atoms in a vacuum. The researchers used strong, magnetic fields to trap the antihydrogen and prevent it from coming into contact with matter. The experiment has shown that it is possible to isolate antihydrogen atoms for about a tenth of a second, a long enough time to study them.
A New York Times article this week, too, highlighted the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a project led by MIT professor and Nobel laureate Samuel Chao Chung Ting. Come February, the device will sit on the space station and look for cosmic rays, detecting high-energy particles and sorting them by their electrical charges.
Researchers are clearly working hard to solve the antimatter mystery. In fact, Yasunori Yamazaki of Japan’s RIKEN research centre announced, “antimatter will not be able to hide its properties from us much longer.”
You hear that, antimatter? You may annihilate ordinary matter in a flash of energy upon contact, but we’re coming for you.