Jan 22, 2016

ALPHA experiment shows antihydrogen charge is neutral

Posted by in categories: particle physics, space

In a paper published in the journal Nature, researchers at CERN’s ALPHA experiment have shown – to the most accurate degree yet – that particles of antihydrogen have a neutral electrical charge.

According to the Standard Model, which explains how the basic building blocks of matter interact, all antimatter – such as antihydrogen – should have the exact opposite charge to its matter counterpart. For example, in a hydrogen atom a negatively charged electron combines with a positively charged proton to give a net charge of zero. In contrast, an antihydrogen atom should have a positively charged positron combining with a negatively charged antiproton to give a net charge of zero. The Standard Model also says that during the Big Bang equal amounts of antimatter and matter were created. But today this isn’t the case, there is much less antimatter in the universe than matter.

Since physicists know that hydrogen has a neutral charge, by studying the charge of antihydrogen, they hoped to see something different or surprising, which could help scientists to understand why nature has a preference for matter over antimatter. “It’s a very important question: is the universe neutral? Do all the positive charges and negative charges have exactly the opposite sign and to what level can you determine that?” explains Jeffrey Hangst, the spokesperson for the ALPHA experiment at CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator (AD) and the lead scientist on the study. “For normal matter that’s known very precisely: to about one part in 1021, that’s one and 21 zeros, that’s an enormous number, we really know that well. Now we have the first opportunity to study this with antiatoms, with antihydrogen, and that’s what we’re publishing now. We made the best possible study that we can make with trapped antihydrogen.”

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