back to article Antimatter hangs around at CERN

Scientists at CERN have published the results of experiments in which they captured anti-hydrogen particles for 1,000 seconds before annihilation. Their work, published in Nature Physics, should yield a better basis for comparing the behaviour of ordinary matter with antimatter. The scientists say the lifetime of the particles …


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  1. Long Fei


    So if an anti and a (plus) meet they are zapped, does this mean they vanish? Where to they go if so? Or are they converted to energy?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      re. Annihilated

      They are completely converted to energy:

      E = mc^2

      So all the mass is turned into energy (like Einstein said).

    2. Sean O'Connor 1


      I'm not an expert on this but my understanding is that as mass is just energy the mass/energy of the two particles gets converted randomly into other particles and photons. And the more energy that there is, the more exotic the resulting particles can be.

    3. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      They are converted to..., in this case high-energy (gamma) photons, if memory serves.

    4. Danny 14


      hypothesised a 100% conversion of matter to energy. Noone knows exactly hence the experiments.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Agree with others..

        ...but the amount of energy is meant to be way higher than conventional fission/fusion reaction, assuming like-for-like mass (and anti-mass)...

        <--- which means we need a much bigger one of these.

        1. Dr. Mouse


          One theory is that an anti-proton is actually a proton travelling backwards through time. When the two collide, it is actually the proton being "reflected" in the time dimension by collision with a photon, so it looks like the 2 are converted to photons.

          I didn't read too much about it, so the details are fuzzy... and this was only one theory about them.

      2. Thomas_Kent

        Who is this Noone* fellow,

        and what exactly does he know?

        (*Oh, you meant NO ONE. Carry on).

    5. Michael 47

      Where do they go

      When a particle and antiparticle collide they are both converted into energy (this is where good old E=mc^2 comes in). A lot of that energy goes into 2 massive gamma rays though ^_^

  2. Anonymous Coward

    How long....

    before we can blow up the Vatican?

    AC, considering what happened to that poor bastard on Twitter

  3. Anonymous Coward


    Couldn't they do it on the Rapture day ?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Don't worry...

      there's still plenty of time to ramp up these experiments and cause the end of the world on December 21, 2012.

  4. Steven Roper
    Thumb Up


    I suppose it won't be too long before the world's militaries weaponise this. They may as well collaborate to build the anti-matter bomb though, and then they can all share it. After all, they'll only need one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      El Reg did an article on the destructive power of antimatter when Mr Brown released his now famous book.

      IIRC, an antimatter bomb of any reasonable size would be less powerful than an equivalent sized nuke.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Only if...

        Only if the containment was too large.

        Nukes convert a miserly fraction of a percent of their mass into energy - an antimatter bomb would release it ALL. Of course it would release it mostly as Gamma, whereas a nuke releases large quantities of heat as well (due to the reaction of the remaining mass.

        1. Christoph

          Actually twice the mass

          An antimatter bomb releases twice its mass as energy - it takes the same mass of normal matter with it.

          The electrons and positrons (usually) convert to pairs of gamma rays. The protons and anti-protons (which are each made up of three quarks and a mess of virtual gluons) tend to be a lot messier and convert to various lighter particles plus energy, and those particles will then interact and/or annihilate with surrounding stuff until it eventually all ends up as energy in some form.

          But the end result will be a Very Large Bang. Detailed observations are left as an exercise for the reader.

    2. Filippo Silver badge


      An AM bomb is technically near-impossible to build, but nevermind. A bomb more powerful than a nuke would be useless. Nukes are already too powerful to be useful as anything but deterrent.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        More powerful bombs

        Could be useful if they (a) can be made more compact than the equivalent yield nuke (questionable in the case of AM) and (b) if they can explode without showering the surroundings with bits of U tamper and various unpleasant fission products (which an AM bomb should be able to do)...

    3. Gannon (J.) Dick

      Added Bonus

      With the customary commercial interruption, the entire 1,000 second lifetime could be covered in detail in no more than a few hours. I warned my Cable Company this would happen eventually.

  5. johnf

    When will it end?

    Will the killing and annihilation never end?

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


      For at least another 10E100 years....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Surely 1E101?

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          If in standard form - yes

          But does not look as sexy as 10 to the power of 100, does it? :-)

          1. Naughtyhorse

            I have it on good (impeccable) authority...

            thats its 12 dec this year


          2. ratfox


            10E100 is not 10 to the power of 100. It is ten times 1E100, and 1E100 is 10 to the power of 100.

            For instance, 1E111 is ten to the power of eleventy-one. Right?

            1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

              Yes, you're right

              My mistake.

    2. Graham Wilson

      @johnf -- No!

      Because that's how nature is, unfortunately.

  6. Adrian Esdaile

    And the next goal...

    will be getting it to the Vatican!

  7. Danington the Third


    So what is it?

    Only joking!

  8. AGirlFromVenus

    next steps...

    ...first anti-oxygen, then anti-carbon then anti-CH3OH. Awesome

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


      Ever drink methanol. Anti- or not.

    2. Graham Wilson

      @AGirlFromVenus -- Sorry, wrong! Yuh need a good bang for yuh buck but not blindness too!

      CH3-OH is methanol. It's excellent for racing cars but terrible for the eyes etc., blindness ensues upon imbibing.

      Anti-C2H5-OH [CH3-CH2-OH], ethanol, would be a safer option but the gamma rays pose a shielding problem; hence, I'd strongly recommend it only be consumed on extra special occasions.

      Shuffling off this mortal coil being perhaps the very best example.


  9. Scott Broukell

    <insert title here>

    "Me rant at IT" = anagram of Anti Matter

  10. Anonymous Coward


    Now we only need to build our first, dilithium chambered starship!

  11. Darrell

    Simple CERN

    Auntie hydrogen? When will this dumbing down stop!!!

  12. Bob Gateaux

    Hot off the press

    This will be the news from one ago then?

    1. Ragarath

      the best bit

      The best part of the article if it gets proven to be true is this...

      "Even more excitingly, the lab's particle physicists have plans for upcoming tests that will determine whether antimatter plays by gravity's rules, or whether they're truly "anti" in every definition. The ALPHA team plans to freeze a small lump of antihydrogen, and watch what happens.

      If it falls up, we might be seeing the first step towards turning anti-gravity sci-fi into a reality. CERN is determined to test this within the next couple of months."

      1. Chemist

        Just think about it a little..

        *Even* if antimatter was repelled by gravity how are you going to contain it so that it doesn't interact with the matter you want to fly through. The containment is going to be extremely sophisticated matter weighing a considerable amount more than the anti-matter.

        The idea doesn't get off he ground

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Another BBC Science Fail

    BBC Breakfast just reported that this "could form a valuable new source of energy, much like the anti-matter core in Star Trek"

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Still a bit off the anti matter fuelled spaceship

    More strictly the anti proton catalysed fission/fusion system proposed by U.Penn.

    1 atom down 10^17-1 to go.

    1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

      We've established the principal.

      The rest is just implementation detail.


  15. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

    Next stop....

    ....the NCC-1701.


    1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

      Oh for goodness' sake.

      It was a joke, OK? You don't need to down-vote anything that doesn't fit your nice, safe, comfortable world view. Now run along and let the grown-ups talk.


  16. Anonymous Coward

    Thats a bit harsh

    What has the Vatican ever done to deserve being demolecularised?

    Apart from the Crusades, the dissolution of the monasteries (due in part to Henry VIII but could have been avoided if they had come to an agreement), the Inquisition, the infamous pedo priest scandal and subsequent coverup, etc.

    To be fair they have improved a lot since then but even now some records remain sealed under the 1000 year rule (as in they will never be released but still exist in some vault somewhere)

    We are talking about human beings here don't forget, albeit somewhat deluded ones.

    AC, but run algorithm pattern-recognition-8472

  17. Anonymous Coward

    To boldly go...

    Don't forget the dilithium crystals. "Warp factor 4 Mr Sulu".

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Star Trekking

      Whats impressive is that Star Trek 'imagineered' a magnetic bottle for anti matter storage back in the 1960's. Along with how to actually use the stuff.

      Science ...yaayyy but did the Scientists think up this independently or is a closet trekkie amongst the Cern team? What came first Chicken or the egg.

      Still well build a bliddy starship with it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Along with how to actually use the stuff."

        What !?

      2. kyza

        Closet Trekkies at CERN?

        I'd have thought it was an mandatory Q&A in the 'Hobbies & Interests' section

        Do you like:

        Star Trek

        Star Wars

        All those answering B failed

      3. F Seiler

        oh, a title

        i think we can safely assume the CRT existed before star trek

    2. Martin Lyne


      The book "Physics of Star Trek" mentions the physics professors and students they had as consults on the show, the writers would work with them to make stuff that was scientifically feasible. Or at least, didn't require putting frontal lobes on standby.

      In the words of George Takai: "Oh Myyyyy"

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Science wins again


    Take that, and shove your iron-age religion!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      yeah, right.. if we can just find the antimatter half of the universe science will know everything....

      1. Gannon (J.) Dick

        Yes, but ...

        Late one night

        When we were all in bed

        Old Mother Leary

        Left a xxxlanternxxx antimatter half of the universe in the shed

        And when the cow kicked it over,

        She winked her eye and said,

        "There’ll be a hot time In the old town, tonight."

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge


        Then you'd probably want to read the last part of Jame's Blish's Cities In Flight series called "A Clash of Cymbals."

        Like the author, it does not end well.

  19. TeeCee Gold badge

    "....long-life anti-hydrogen particles..."

    Ah. That'll be the sort that you don't have to keep in the fridge, right?

  20. Purlieu

    100% ?

    I'm impressed with the 100% conversion claim.

    In fact in science there's no such thing as 100%

    There's always a tiny amount that doesn't convert.

    Always the dot of ying in the yang.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      WTF is "ying"?

      As subject.

      1. Ted Treen


        It's a little-known Chinese criminal gang, as exposed & publicised by The Goons in "The Ying Tong song"...

        Coat & Rickshaw, please

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So drop a rock onto the ground ..

      which part of the potential energy remains ?

      ( just assuming you can drop it down a further (gravity) well is not a correct answer)

    3. Frumious Bandersnatch


      oh yeah, that'll be the widely-accepted homeopathic priciple then?

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


        If you explode that thing in the atmosphere you can be pretty sure that all 100% will react sooner or later...

  21. Ted Treen

    Does that mean...

    That somewhere there's an anti-matter Simon Cowell?

    If so, can we get him to meet with the one we've got?


  22. Purlieu


    Don't panic kiddies it's obvious to an adult that I accidentally put a 'g' in the end of YIN

    Move along now, nothing more to see here

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Do anti-molecules...

    Only react with their counterparts or with all normal matter?

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch


      I guess that protons can't capture anti-electrons to create atoms since they both have positive charge. So the short answer is "no".

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      I'll take this one...

      Since all chemistry is essentially about moving electrons about , trying to react an anti-element with a normal element would result in the electrons and positrons (anit-electrons) annihilating each other, producing a gamma photon for each annihilation. Once all of the positrons (or electrons) had been disposed of, the nuclear particles (anti-protons and anti-neutrons) would react with their normal matter counterparts, relasing a shower of quarks, neutrinos, etc. as noted above. Since the anti-protns have a charge and the anti-neutrons do not, you might find the anti-neutrons would hang around for a lot longer. AFAIK, this also makes them harder to capture when they are produced in particle accelerators, which is why it is a lot easier to produce anti-hydrogen than any other anti-atoms, since all other elements only have stable isotopes containing neutrons.

      On another note; to those talking about making bombs, etc. from antimatter, please bear in mind that 11 atoms of antihydrogen annihilating with normal matter would produce at most a few hundred photons in the annihilation. It is unlikely that this would even be detectable by the human eye even in a compeltely dark room (and if the photons were of a visible wavelength).

      There are 6e23 (i.e 6 followed by 23 zeroes) atoms in 1g of hydrogen, we have a while to go yet before we can produce this much. Also, bear in mind, that to produce antimatter, we have to put that energy into producing the anti-particles in the first place, and the efficiency of this process is very very low, so to produce an anti-matter bomb, you'd have to use several times the amount of energy you want it to yield in its production, and you'd have to invent an efficient way of making that antimatter in the first place.

  24. Madboater

    What the Misses wants

    Is anti-chocolate gate!

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Antimatter bomb

    I calculate that one kilogram of antimatter would react with one kilogram of ordinary matter and release about 1.8e17 J of energy, which corresponds to about 43 megatons of TNT, which is slightly less than the largest man-made nuclear explosion so far, the Tsar Bomba test in 1961. The energy might initially be released as high-frequency gamma radiation, but I would hazard a wild guess that the surrounding air would be ionised and then no longer be transparent to the radiation, so a lot of the energy would be converted to heat within a fireball with a diameter of about 10 km, like with the Tsar Bomba.

    For various reasons, some already mentioned, it's very unlikely that anyone would be able to or want to make such a bomb in the foreseeable future.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      But all the nice scientists have said that a contra-terrene bomb isn't feasible, or would be of such puny destructive power as to be worthless.

      Are you saying the nice scientists are WRONG and the EVIL MILITARY SCIENCE is correct, and you could build proper, planet anilhilating bomb as I assume the GRB from such a device would denude most of the living things on, at the very least, the surface of the planet...

    2. Frumious Bandersnatch

      ah but you know Dimitri

      He likes his surprises.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    The good news is....

    That we will blow up the world before the inevitable cybernetic rebellion!!

    I for one welcome our world-expoding physicist overlords!!!

  27. roadhog

    keep an eye for lemuel

    e bomb is only days away.

  28. Purlieu

    So that's what's going to happen

    on October 21st

  29. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    My mistake. They seem to have got 300 atoms in the trap.

    So things are 2 orders of magnitude better already.

    But WTF is this about anti particles responding to gravity "inversely"?

    Would this not be obvious by now? A few radioisotopes are positron (anti-electron) emitters and have been know since the 1940's (at least). I'd have thought a particle which *rose* in a gravitational field would be *huge* news by know.

  30. The Prevaricator

    1000 seconds?

    I may have erroniously caught the wrong end of the stick, but I was under the impression that all but a nanognat's fart of antimatter was already gone by t = 1 second. The traditional method of "banging the rocks (or particles at least) together, guys" is usually the easiest way of attempting to recreate this critical epoch, where there was clearly enough disparity for just matter to prevail thereafter.

    Getting your antimatter cool enough to form atoms is a nice party trick, but it's not really relevant to the real problem. What this team hope to achieve by allowing them now for a few mere minutes at a time is quite frankly a mystery to me.

    Good work on getting funding for such impressive toys, though.

  31. Slabfondler

    I for one...

    welcome our new anti-matter overlords.

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