Hydrogen’s Evil Twin

Researchers at CERN have made 38 very special, very dangerous hydrogen atoms.  It took over 300 attempts, and these atoms destroyed themselves within a tenth of a second, but this is still huge progress in the study of antimatter.

Two important things we know about antimatter: 1) when it comes in contact with regular matter, the two destroy each other releasing ridiculous amounts of energy, and 2) the electrical charge of its particles is reversed.  Antiprotons are negative and antielectrons (aka: positrons) are positive.

While these two facts are important, there is also a great deal we don’t know.  For example, hydrogen absorbs and emits light at specific frequencies, which is how astronomers detect it in distant stars and galaxies.  Does antihydrogen behave the same way?

Researchers hope to find out using the data they collected in that tenth of a second.  The results could change our understanding of special relativity, and perhaps, if the frequencies are different, we could use that knowledge to find sources of antimatter in our galaxy or elsewhere.

Antimatter is quite common in science fiction.  It’s often used as a power source, but it also appeared in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, where it was used as a weapon.  More and more, elements of science fiction are becoming science fact; now people outside the sci-fi community are writing about them.  I wonder if this means science fiction writers should move on to even stranger things.

For more information on CERN’s latest antimatter experiments, particularly how the containment system worked, click here.

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