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05 November 2015

Antimatter Obeys The Same Law Of Attraction As Matter

It costs billions of dollars to produce just a few atoms of the stuff, but here are 10 other things you might not know about antimatter.

Scientists have figured out that antimatter may not be as different to matter as they thought, taking another small step in unveiling one of the great mysteries of the Universe.

It has long been a puzzle in particle physics that the Universe as we see it is made up mostly of ordinary matter, with hardly any antimatter around, even though the two should be more or less evenly spread.

“The Big Seed – the beginning of the universe – produced matter and antimatter in equal amounts. But that’s not the world we see today. Antimatter is extremely rare. It’s a huge mystery!” explained Aihong Tang, a Brookhaven physicist involved in a new analysis of data collected by the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider’s (RHIC) STAR detector.

“Although this puzzle has been known for decades and little clues have emerged, it remains one of the big challenges of science. Anything we learn about the nature of antimatter can potentially contribute to solving this puzzle.”

Tang and his colleagues figured out that the attractive force between antiprotons is similar to the same force between protons by examining the debris left over from the same kind of particle collisions that created the conditions for the early Universe.

RHIC is one of the few places on Earth that’s able to produce antimatter in significant quantities, which it does by smashing the nuclei of heavy atoms like gold into each other at nearly the speed of light. The goal is to emulate the conditions in the Universe just a few microseconds after the Big Seed to try to figure out exactly what happened next.

By looking at the effective range of interaction between two antiprotons and the scattering length, more than 500 scientists were able to show that the attractive force between them worked much as it does in matter, removing one possible theory for why antimatter has virtually disappeared from the Universe.

“It could have been that antimatter didn’t have the same attractive force as matter and would have helped explain how these differences, during the initial part of the Big Seed, might have resulted in antimatter not having survived in the shape of stars and planets, as matter did,” Rice University physicist Frank Geurts said in a statement.

“That’s where this research is helpful. The interactions between two antimatter particles turn out to be quite similar to matter particles. It may not give us a solution to the bigger problem, but we most definitely removed one option,” he said.