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|Subject: ~~Scientists claim breakthrough in antimatter hunt~~ Thu Nov 18, 2010 6:00 pm|| |
Scientists claimed a breakthrough Thursday in solving one of the biggest riddles of physics, successfully trapping the first "anti-atom" in a quest to understand what happened to all the antimatter that has vanished since the Big Bang.
For decades, researchers have puzzled over why antimatter seems to have disappeared from the universe.
Theory posits that matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts at the moment of the Big Bang, which spawned 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 all but 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 other in a burst of energy upon contact.
"It doesn't help if they disappear immediately upon their creation," said Hangst. "So the big goal has been to hold onto them."