Antimatter is a concept that oozes sci-fi, evocative of amazing engines, time travel and most likely destruction of the whole universe. Or maybe it’s a parallel-worlds-are-everywhere-around-us type of thing. In any case, this idea comes to us from the law of physics that predicts that there should be an antimatter particle for every particle of regular matter. But if the two shall ever meet, there’d be a release of energy, annihilating both.
This goes to the heart of the mystery of how our universe was created. If equal amounts of matter and antimatter were produced by the Big Bang, how did everything not just explode or just vanish? Why are we even here?
To study this, scientists have been trying to understand antimatter, looking for decades to compare its properties to matter. And a new report from CERN in Switzerland confirms that for the first time ever researchers were able to control an antimatter particle of the hydrogen atom, manipulating it long enough with lasers to allow for measurement and comparison with the regular matter hydrogen atom.
In particular, scientists from the ALPHA experiment at the CERN laboratory were able to hit the antihydrogen atoms with a laser to observe the light they gave off as positrons in the atoms returned to lower energy levels.
“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,” said Professor Jeffrey Hangst, spokesperson of the ALPHA collaboration.