For the first time ever, antimatter has been trapped by a magnetic field allowing it to be studied in detail.
The 38 atoms were antihydrogen, theoretically the same as hydrogen but having the opposite charge. Where hydrogen is made of one proton, one electron, antihydrogen is made with an antiproton and a positron.
Antihydrogen was first made at CERN in 1995, and in 2002 they could make large enough quantities for study. The problem is that matter and antimatter annihilate each other when they meet, so the antihydrogen is short lived. The ALPHA project has changed that. Using strong and complex magnetic fields stops the antimatter from coming in contact with any matter.
This technique allowed the antihydrogen to last for a tenth of a second, plenty of time to study the properties of antimatter.
Antimatter has always been a bit of a mystery. During the Big Bang, equal amounts of antimatter and matter should have been made. But for some reason, everything around us is made of matter and the antimatter seems to have disappeared.
The research was published yesterday in Nature online.
Andresen, G., & et al (2010). Trapped antihydrogen Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature09610