• Question: I have recently heard that some anti-matter was captured for about 5 minutes but isn't it true that when Anti-Matter and it's counterpart meet they destroy one another? Because I heard that matter cannot be destroyed so is this incorrect?

    Asked by corange to Amy, Drew, Julia, Kimberley, Sara on 19 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Drew Rae

      Drew Rae answered on 17 Jun 2011:

      Hi Corange. There’s a few interesting issues tucked into this one. Matter can be converted to energy, and vice-versa. Mixing matter and anti-matter would result in conversion of some of the mass to energy (specifically, gamma rays).

      They’ve been making anti-matter for a while, but it is hard to study. What they try to do is to slow it down and then trap it in a magnetic field. For the reason you point out, you can’t exactly hold it in a container of ordinary matter. Probably what you heard about was that one of the teams at CERN recently managed to trap quite a quantity of anti-hydrogen for around 17 minutes.

    • Photo: Amy MacQueen

      Amy MacQueen answered on 17 Jun 2011:

      I am also interested in this – I don’t know much about physics. Thanks for the clarification Drew!

    • Photo: Sara Imari Walker

      Sara Imari Walker answered on 18 Jun 2011:

      Hi corange! This is a fantastic question! It is a misnomer that matter cannot be created or destroyed. The universe is in a constant state of matter creation and destruction via anti-matter and matter collisions! As Drew has outlined very nicely, when matter and antimatter come together they annihilate to produce energetic photons. However the opposite can also happen, energy can produce matter – antimatter pairs like electron-positron pairs. Typically they just re-annihilate but sometimes they survive. Fortunately for us there is much much much more matter in our universe than antimatter so we don’t have to worry about this too much. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to meet my anti-self!! Despite the fact that their isn’t really much antimatter out there it is important for us to study it. It has a lot to tell us about fundamental particle physics. In fact many particle accelerators, like the LHC small relativistic matter and antimatter together to make other particles!! These clever scientists have found lots of ingenious ways to harness antimatter and trap it. Since antimatter is charged, magnetic fields are a great way to keep it safe and isolated from interacting with matter. As Drew has said, we therefore use magnetic traps to hold it. Its tough work though. This year was the first time anyone has actually experimentally verified the existence of anti-Helium. And that’s a pretty light element!!!

    • Photo: Julia Griffen

      Julia Griffen answered on 19 Jun 2011:

      Have no idea!