New CERN experiments probe puzzling questions about antimatter

cern antimatter gravity 201808 267 37
ALPHA CERN

What happens when you take a bit of antimatter and drop it? That’s the question being probed in a new series of antimatter gravity experiments being conducted by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, more commonly know as CERN, where outstanding antimatter experiments are just another day in the office. The goal to unravel one of the many unknowns of antimatter — whether it falls in response to gravity at the same rate as ordinary matter, or if it instead behaves peculiarly.

You may remember this puzzling fact from high school physics class: When you drop two objects with different masses in a vacuum (that is, in the absence of friction) they’ll each descend at exactly the same rate. When dropped in a vacuum, a feather and a bowling ball both accelerate at a rate of 9.81 meters per second squared. But how does antimatter react?

“[It’s a] very simple, very basic question,” Jeffrey Hangst, spokesperson for one of the experiments, ALPHA, said in a video accompanying the news release. “But we don’t know the answer.”

In order to answer this question, the CERN researchers have developed two experiments called ALPHA-g and GBAR.

ALPHA-g has a lot in common with CERN’s ALPHA experiment, which binds antiprotons with positrons to create neutral antihydrogen atoms. A magnetic trap is then used to capture the neutral antihydrogen atom and shine microwaves or a laser light onto them to determine their internal structure.

The new ALPHA-g experiment uses a similar instrument, but one that’s positioned vertically, rather than horizontally, so that they can measure where the atoms are vertically once the magnetic trap is deactivated and Earth’s gravity takes hold. By recording the position, the researchers will be able to determine the effect that gravity has on the antihydrogen atoms.

ALPHA-g is the product of years of research to produce sufficient amounts of neutral antimatter, or antimatter that doesn’t have a charge. The CERN team can now produce and capture up to 1,000 antihydrogen atoms at once in its ALPHA-2 machine.

Where the ALPHA-g experiment takes on a familiar form, the GBAR experiment will pose a unique experience for the CERN researchers. GBAR will generate antihydrogen ions with one antiproton and two positrons, by using antiprotons from the ELENA deceleration ring and positrons sourced from a small linear accelerator. Once the antihydrogen ions are produced, they will be trapped and chilled to extremely low temperatures, before a laser light is used to strip them of one positron and turn them into neutral antiatoms. By then releasing the antiatoms from a height of 20 centimeters, the researchers will measure how they react.

“We are hoping that we’ll get the chance to make the first gravity measurements with antimatter, but it’s a race against time.” Patrice Pérez, spokesperson for GBAR, said. “The GBAR experiment is using an entirely new apparatus and an antiproton beam still in its commissioning phase. We hope to produce antihydrogen this year and are working toward being ready to measure the gravitational effects on antimatter when the antiprotons are back in 2021.”

After some initial tests, the researchers are now racing to get their experiments commissioned before CERN’s accelerators are deactivated for a two-year maintenance period in the next few weeks.

By revealing the effects of gravity on antimatter, researchers may be able to shed light on a quantum theory of gravity or even begin to explain why the universe seems primarily made up of matter and not its opposite.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Outdoors

The best sleeping bags to help you conquer the cold, no matter what season it is

A proper sleeping bag has the ability to make or break a camping or backpacking trip. Here are our picks for the best sleeping bags on the market to help you choose the correct bag for any type of outdoor adventure.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in November, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Dracula’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Emerging Tech

Watch this lab-grown heart tissue beat just like the real thing

A team of researchers in Germany have used stem cells to create a lab-grown human heart tissue which actually beats, as well as responding to drugs in the same way as the real thing.
Emerging Tech

Shipping crate filled with 3D-printing robots may be the future of construction

Autodesk has created a robot-filled shipping container which may represent the future of construction work. The crate contains two robots able to 3D print custom components for building sites.
Emerging Tech

Michigan’s former transportation chief has some advice for wannabe smart cities

After 31 years as Michigan’s transportation director, Kirk Steudle has seen it all, particularly with smart city projects. He spoke with Digital Trends recently about what makes smart cities work, and offers advice along the way.
Emerging Tech

Sticking these tiny needles in your eye may help fight blindness

An eye patch covered in tiny needles sounds like a torture device. In fact, it's a potential new medical treatment for eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Bottle-flipping robots may be the most millennial thing we’ve ever seen

Until drones start vaping, you're unlikely to see anything more millennial than a recent contest in Japan in which robots competed to pull off some seriously impressive bottle-flipping feats.
Emerging Tech

New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

Elon Musk has the dream of building a network for conveying internet traffic via thousands of satellites. A new simulation created by a computer scientist looks at how feasible the idea is.
Cars

Car parts maker ZF is using drones to deliver components to its factories

ZF recently became the first entity in Germany to receive approval to use drones to deliver spare parts, and the company now uses them to deliver parts from its central warehouses to its workshops.
Emerging Tech

Meet the 4K selfie drone that folds like a book, follows you like a paparrazzo

Having a drone that could follow you everywhere while taking high-quality images without crashing has been a flight of fantasy. With ZeroZero's Hover 2, not only can you have a fully autonomous 4K selfie drone, you can have it for $400.
Emerging Tech

These Alexa-stuffed retro phones don’t listen until you take them off the hook

Looking for an Amazon Echo with a cool vintage touch? Los Angeles-based Grain Design is taking old, non-working antique phones and transforming them into amazing Alexa smart speakers.
Smart Home

This alarm clock uses targeted light and sound to wake you, but not your partner

The Wake v2 isn't like your typical bedside alarm. Instead, it wakes you by shining a soft light directly into your face, thereby not disturbing the person sharing a bed with you. Pretty smart, huh?