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Breakthrough Physics: Scientists Blast Antimatter Atoms With A Laser For The First Time

First Posted: Dec 21, 2016 04:07 AM EST

After two decades of trying, physicists have reported the first ever measurement on the optical spectrum of an antimatter atom.

Published in the journal Nature, physicists at CERN were able to blast antimatter atoms with a laser, then accurately measure the light emitted by these strange anti-atoms with an experiment called ALPHA-2. They have measured the spectrum of antihydrogen, the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen. This finding will allow physicists to investigate more precisely how this strange material differs from hydrogen.

"Using a laser to observe a transition in antihydrogen and comparing it to hydrogen to see if they obey the same laws of physics has always been a key goal of antimatter research," Jeffrey Hangst, spokesperson of the ALPHA collaboration, said in a press release by CERN.

The results of the study could help answer one of the biggest mysteries in modern physics -- why is there much more regular matter than antimatter in the universe? Did antimatter lose to regular old matter?

The theory is that when the universe emerged from a violent explosion, the Big Bang, equal amounts of antimatter and matter were produced. When antimatter and matter come together, they should overpower each other, leaving nothing but energy behind. However, physicists are left baffled on why matter outweighs antimatter, until now.

The findings show that hydrogen and antihydrogen contained the same properties. The ALPHA collaboration expects to improve the accuracy and precision of its measurements in the future. This could open doors to test whether matter behaves differently from antimatter.

According to NPR, there are a lot more measurements of antimatter left to do, and once they would be able to develop this new tool, there are a lot of amazing things they can be able to do in the future.

"Moving and trapping antiprotons or positrons is easy because they are charged particles," Hangst said. "But when you combine the two you get neutral antihydrogen, which is far more difficult to trap, so we have designed a very special magnetic trap that relies on the fact that antihydrogen is a little bit magnetic," he added.

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