Monday, December 31, 2012
Scientists Help Explain Scarcity of Anti-Matter
A collaboration with major participation by physicists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has made a precise measurement of elusive, nearly massless particles, and obtained a crucial hint as to why the universe is dominated by matter, not by its close relative, anti-matter.
The particles, called anti-neutrinos, were detected at the underground Daya Bay experiment, located near a nuclear reactor in China, 55 kilometers north of Hong Kong.
For the measurement of anti-neutrinos it made in 2012, the Daya Bay collaboration has been named runner-up for breakthrough of the year from Science magazine.
Anti-particles are almost identical twins of sub-atomic particles (electrons, protons and neutrons) that make up our world. When an electron encounters an anti-electron, for example, both are annihilated in a burst of energy. Failure to see these bursts in the universe tells physicists that anti-matter is vanishingly rare, and that matter rules the roost in today’s universe.
“At the beginning of time, in the Big Bang, a soup of particles and anti-particles was created, but somehow an imbalance came about,” says Karsten Heeger, a professor of physics at UW-Madison. “All the studies that have been done have not found enough difference between particles and anti-particles to explain the dominance of matter over anti-matter.”
But the neutrino, an extremely abundant but almost massless particle, may have the right properties, and may even be its own anti-particle, Heeger says. “And that’s why physicists have put their last hope on the neutrino to explain the absence of anti-matter in the universe.”