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'Sensational' anti-matter discovery

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  • Jeroen Kumeling
    Friday, March 5, 1999 Published at 18:47 GMT Sensational anti-matter discovery By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse The reason we are all
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 6, 1999
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      Friday, March 5, 1999 Published at 18:47 GMT
      'Sensational' anti-matter discovery
      By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

      The reason we are all made of matter and not anti-matter may have been
      discovered.

      The latest results from a particle accelerator near Chicago suggest that
      matter and anti-matter are not after all identical "mirror images" of one
      another.

      This could explain why all the anti-matter that existed at the Big Bang has
      disappeared.

      The scientists are said to be "shocked" at the size of the effect they have
      seen.

      "It's a most astonishing result," said Professor Val Fitch of Princeton
      University. "It is quite unexpected and very, very interesting."

      The new discovery made by scientists in the United States and Japan has
      given them a glimpse of the fundamental way in which the universe is made.

      It shows that the Universe is a very perplexing place when viewed at the
      sub-atomic scale. And it may explain why we are here at all.

      Mirror image

      Scientists believe that, in many ways, anti-matter is the mirror-image of
      ordinary matter only with opposite electrical charges. But the puzzle is
      that there is almost no anti-matter in our Universe.

      Across the length and breadth of the cosmos, anti-matter only turns up in
      minute quantities in very special circumstances.

      At the beginning of the Universe, the Big Bang, scientists believe that
      there were equal amounts of matter and anti-matter. But in the Universe's
      earliest moments something happened to cause most of the anti-matter to
      disappear.

      Finding out if anti-matter is slightly different to matter could explain
      why it disappeared. And that is what the recent experiments seem to have
      done.

      Tantalising results

      They were carried out at Fermilab, a sub-atomic particle accelerator
      facility near Chicago, US. The scientists looked at the behaviour of
      sub-atomic particles called B-mesons and have cautiously reported finding
      "tantalising" results that show that matter and anti-matter do not obey the
      same laws of physics.

      The phenomenon they think they spotted is technically called direct
      Charge-Parity (CP) violation. It means that particles behave differently if
      you swap matter for anti-matter and also swap left and right.

      Physicists say that this "asymmetry" would have been important during the
      first moments of the Big Bang and may have resulted in almost all
      anti-matter being destroyed.

      The observation of direct CP violation is an exciting one for physicists as
      it disagrees with all the currently held theories about the nature of
      matter.

      "It's just sensational," said Professor James Cronin who received a Nobel
      prize for a related discovery in 1964.

      Complexity revealed

      He showed that K-mesons made from ordinary matter did not behave exactly
      like those made of anti-matter. But the latest experiments show a much
      stronger effect and more of the underlying complexity.

      Earlier this century, scientists predicted and then made microscopic
      amounts of anti-matter. They realised that matter and anti-matter together
      results in annihilation in a flash of energy.

      If anti-matter had not vanished from our universe, then it is possible that
      all the cosmos would now consist of nothing but radiation, with no matter
      at all.

      More Fermilab experiments and calculations are planned to see if the new
      observations can be understood. In the meantime, if you want to know why we
      are here, it is all about the difference between left and right - just look
      in a mirror.

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