Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Exotic Antimatter"

Space.com reports that scientists have succeeded in creating a rather special form of antimatter.

Scientists have created a never-before seen type of exotic matter that is thought to have been present at the earliest stages of the universe, right after the Big Bang.

The new matter is a particularly weird form of antimatter, which is like a mirror-image of regular matter. Every normal particle is thought to have an antimatter partner, and if the two come into contact, they annihilate.

The recent feat of matter-tinkering was accomplished by smashing charged gold atoms at each other at super-high speeds in a particle accelerator called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.

Among the many particles that resulted from this crash were bizarre objects called anti-hypertritons. Not only are these things antimatter, but they're also what's called strange matter. Where normal atomic nuclei are made of protons and neutrons (which are made of "up" quarks and "down" quarks), strange nuclei also have so-called Lambda particles that contain another flavor of quark called "strange" as well. These Lambda particles orbit around the protons and neutrons.

If all that is a little much to straighten out, just think of anti-hypertritons as several kinds of weird.

Though they normally don't exist on Earth, these particles may be hiding in the universe in very hot, dense places like the centers of some stars, and most likely were around when the universe was extremely young and energetic, and all the matter was packed into a very small, sweltering space.

There's more at the link.

Reading this in the light of yesterday's article on physics and experimentation, it's fascinating to realize how little we know, despite all our pretensions to understanding. We know such things exist, and we can even create them - fleetingly - under experimental conditions, but we don't know why they exist, or what they do, or even whether we'll ever find them in Nature. I daresay that in a few centuries time, our children's children's children will still be studying things like this, and probably others that we haven't even dreamed of yet.

Somehow, I find that a comforting thought. It's nice to have unsolved mysteries to challenge us.


No comments: